Nessy Heywood

HESTER, or, as she was invariably called, Nessy Heywood, the second daughter of Deemster Peter John Heywood and Elizabeth Spedding, was born at the Nunnery, near Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1768.

What little is known of her brief life is, we think, worth telling.

Before doing so, with the view of showing what her environment was, we will give some particulars of her family, of Douglas, her native town, as it then existed, and of the friends by whom she was probably surrounded.

The Manx Heywoods are descended from the well-known family of that name, who lived at Heywood, in Lancashire, where one Piers Heywood was seated as early as 1164. The first member of the family to be connected with the Isle of Man was Peter, sixteenth in descent from the aforesaid Piers. Peter was a nephew of the famous "Powder Plot" Heywood, so called from his having apprehended Guy Fawkes. At the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, there is to be seen a lantern, bearing the following inscription : —"The very lantern that was taken from Guy Fawkes by Peter Heywood, when he attempted to blow up the Parliament House."

Peter’s nephew, who married Alice, daughter of John Greenhalgh, Governor of the Isle of Man from 1640 to 1651, was a strong Royalist. In consequence of this all his estates were sequestered. Being a devoted friend of the seventh Earl of Derby, he then (1643) sought refuge in the Isle of Man, and only left it to take part in the battle of Worcester, at which a Manx contingent fought in 1651.

His eldest son, Robert Heywood, was Governor of the Isle of Man from 1678 till his death in 1690. We know but little of him, except that he probably had sporting tendencies, as we find him winning the Manx "Derby," with his bay gelding "Loggerhead,’ in 1678. This race, which took place annually on Langness, near Castletown, had been instituted by Lord Strange in 1628, with a view of encouraging the Manx farmers to breed good horses.

Robert’s son, Peter, who was Attorney-General of the Isle of Man, married Leonora, only child of Hugh Cannell, Water Bailiff, and Margaret Calcott, of the Nunnery. It was through her that he became possessed of that property.

Their eldest son, also Peter, sold the Heywood estates in Lancashire, which had been restored to them after 1660, and, having incurred his mother’s displeasure, he lost the Nunnery, which she left to his younger brother Thomas.

Thomas Heywood was Speaker of the House of Keys, Captain of the Fort at Douglas, and a friend of Bishop Wilson’s. By his wife, Hester, daughter of Robert Reeves, of Cork, he had eight sons and four daughters.

The eldest of the sons, Peter John, the father of our heroine, should be remembered as one of the few Manxmen in the eighteenth century who, so far as we know, took an interest in the language and literature of his native country. It is to him that we owe the preservation of "Fin as Oshin," probably the oldest Manx ballad in existence. He sent a copy of it to Professor Thorketin, of Copenhagen, by whom it was deposited in the British Museum In 1764, at the early age of twenty-five, he was appointed Deemster, this being the last official appointment before the end of the Atholl régime.

Nessy’s mother was one of the Speddings, of Cumberlãnd.1 They had ten children besides Nessy, who was the third child. The eldest was Thomas, who died in 1770. Then came Mary, born in 1766;Nessy, in 1768 ; Elizabeth, in 1770 ; Peter. in 1772 James, in 1774 ; Isabella, in 1775 ; Jane, in 1777; Henry, in 1779 ; Robert John, in 1781 ; and Edwin Holwell, in 1782.

Robert, Nessy’s uncle, the second son of Thomas Heywood and Hester Reeves, was born in 1740. He held the office of Water-Bailiff. By his first wife, Margaret Joiner, he had Thomas, born in 1765; Calcott, in 1766; Richard and Robert (twins), in 1769; Hester, in 1771; and Margaret, in 1772. By his second wife, Elizabeth Bacon, he had two daughters and a son, John Joseph (died 1855), who became Deemster.

Of the daughters of Thomas and his wife, three reached maturity (being, of course, Nessy’s aunts), viz., Leonora, married to Daniel Mylrea; Hester, to Colonel James Holwell; and Mary, to Commodore, afterwards Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley. Hester and Mary first met their future husbands, then mid-shipmen, at a ball, given by Captain Elliot, on board the Aeolus, then lying in Ramsey Bay, after his defeat of Thurot, in February, 1760.

James Holwell (Nessy’s uncle by marriage), after eight years’ service in the Navy, joined the Army. We shall hear of him and Thomas Pasley in connection with Peter’s trial. Of all the numerous issue of Peter John and Robert Heywood there is not one descendant left in the male line ; and, in the female, line, the only one left in the Isle of Man is Mr. Senhouse Heywood Wilson, J.P., of Farm Hill.

When Nessy was born, her father and mother were living at The Nunnery, in the quaint old house, an illustration of which, as it appeared in 1825, we give on the opposite page. It is probable that it had not altered much in the interval.

When she was five years old, in 1773, her father sold The Nunnery to John Taubman, of the "Bowling Green," Castletown; resigned the Deemstership, and went to live in Whitehaven with his family. We have no idea what led him to take these steps, nor do we know anything of the life of the family in Whitehaven. The only glimpse we get of them there is by means of a letter from Peter Heywood’s old friend, the Rev. Philip Moore, Rector of Bride, and Chaplain of St. Matthew’s, who was staying with the Heywoods in July, 1779.

In this letter, which is addressed to his nephew, Edward, in Douglas, he says :—"Though the ‘Royal Gazette’ takes no notice of it, for reasons of State, best known to the Ministers of State and the Privy Council, you may, notwithstanding, be assured that a certain itinerant of no great note,. nor of any consequence, but to himself and his friends, who are not a few, is now here, corporally, personally, and identically, well-lodged and kindly entertained at the house of Peter John Heywood, Esquire, who, by virtue of the power in him vested, and by writ of habeas corpus, seized this rambler and secured him bag and baggage Miss Nessy Heywood, etc., give their compliments to Betsey" (Edward’s wife).

In the following year Peter Heywood (Nessy’s father) received the appointment of Seneschal from the Duke of Atholl, and returned to the Isle of Man. He took up his residence on the "Parade," in Douglas, which was then the newest and most fashionable part of the town. To enable our readers to appreciate Nessy’s environment, we will give a brief description of the Douglas of that time.

The "Parade" was on the site of the present Parade-street. There were then no houses on the south side of it, but only a road and a pebbly beach, on which the herring boats were drawn up in winter. Beyond the beach were the Pollock rocks, with the old round fort at their south-western corner. Further seaward was Conister. Rock, barely visible at high-water, and not yet surmounted by the Tower of Refuge.

On the site of the Royal Hotel stood two red-herring houses, then the sole buildings at the root of the Old Pier, which was shorter and narrower than the Red Pier, its successor on the same site. The Court House, which was close to the site now occupied by the Isle of Man Steam Packet buildings, had not yet been erected.

Behind the "Parade" was the little town, which stretched along the North Quay much as at present, though there is scarcely a single house which was there in 1780, still existing. It was bounded on the west by Cambrian Place, Muckle’s Gate, and Chapel Lane, and did not extend further north than the present line of Lord-street, Hanover-street, and Bigwell-street. There was no South Quay, merely a rocky and gravelly beach, and the Tongue was a sand bank.

On this side of the harbour, just about opposite to the "Parade," there was a small ship-yard. To the west of the ship-yard was a herring-house and a brewery. The row of houses at present on the South Quay, to the west of those we named, was not built till the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Duke-street and Sand (now Strand) street date from about the same period. There were two churches, St. Matthew’s and St. George’s, though the latter was not completed till 1781.

The little town had, in fact, scarcely begun to climb the hill, and its then new church was as far outside of it as the new church of St. Ninian’s is beyond the town of to-day. Most of these details are gleaned from an excellent map by one Peter Fannin, a "master in his Majesty’s Navy," who sailed in that capacity with Captain Cook, the famous navigator.

There were practically no suburbs at the date we are speaking of, the whole area to the north-west of the town being occupied by one large estate, that of the "Hills." The farm, part of this property, was bounded by the river up as far as the Quarter Bridge, and by the line of Athol-street, St. George’s-street, and the new road from Circular-road past the New Hospital, and a continuation of it north-wards to the present town boundary.

The garden part of the estate had the house, which is still in existence, in its western angle. It extended to Buck’s-road on the north, and to its junction with what is now Finch-road, then by the sites of Athol-street and St. George’s-street. The church and churchyard of St. George’s had been part of the farm land.

To the north of the Hills Estate there was a small property, then known as Kermeen’s land, which afterwards came into the possession of Christian "Bucks." To the north-east of the Hills garden was another small property belonging to one Finch.

Such was the topography of Douglas and its neighbourhood in 1780. Its population was rapidly increasing. In 1736 it was 1,814; in 1784, 2,850; and in 1792, 3,620.

Let us now see who were the contemporaries of Nessy and her parents, living in or near the town. We have already referred to her uncles and aunts and cousins. In addition to these, among the friends of her father and mother, there would be John Joseph Bacon and his wife, Hugh Cosnahan and his wife, the Rev. Philip Moore, Vicar of St. Matthew’s, already mentioned, and his successor, his nephew, Edward, and his wife, Elizabeth Fine; old Philip Moore, of the Hills; Captain Robert Brown (father of the Rev. Robert, and grandfather of the Rev. T. E. and Hugh Stowell Brown), who married Jane Drumgold, from whose family Drumgold-street was named; Thomas Stowell; Dr. Patrick Scott, said to have been a relation of Sir Walter’s. who married Ann, daughter of Major Caesar Tobin, of Middle. It was he who supplied Sir Walter with the Manx material for "Peveril of the Peak"; and, finally, the Rev. Charles Crebbin, the new Vicar of St. George’s. In the neighbourhood there were the Taubmans, at The Nunnery; the Moores, at Pulrose; the Tobins, at Middle ; the Oates’s, of Bemahague ; and the Banckes’s, of Howstrake.

As regards people outside of Douglas, Peter Heywood would, doubtless, be brought in contact with the genial Governor-in-Chief, General Edward Smith, the Lieutenant-Governor, Richard Dawson, Bishop Mason (1780-3), and his successor, Claudius Crigan; John Quayle, Clerk of the Rolls; Sir Wadsworth Busk, Attorney-General; Daniel Mylrea and Thomas Moore, Deemsters ; Sir George Moore, Speaker of the House of Keys ; John Christian Curwen, who was both a member of Parliament and of the House of Keys ; and many others.

Among Nessy’s contemporaries were Isabella, Jane, Elizabeth, and John Joseph Bacon ; the numerous children of Hugh Cosnahan ; Edward, James, and Elizabeth, the children of Edward Moore; Isabella, Philip, and Margaret Moore, of Pulrose; and John and Joseph Stowefl, who were educated at the Grammar School, in Douglas, by Philip Moore. As Thomas Stowell and his wife, with their sixteen children, then lived in Douglas, it is probable that Nessy also knew Hugh Stowell, afterwards the saintly clergyman of that name, though he was educated in Ramsey; and Thomas Stowell, the future Clerk of the Rolls.3 It is probable that of all these young people John and Joseph Stowell were the most congenial to Nessy, as they shared in her literary tastes. John Stowell, who was afterwards on the staff of the "Manks Mercury and Briscoe’s Douglas Advertiser," the first Manx newspaper, was a satirical poet of some ability, and Joseph was remarkable for his scholarship.

Thus we see that the Heywoods were provided with a numerous circle of friends, and Nessy, in particular, with many companions, chiefly girls, as is usual in the Isle of Man at the present day. Let us get some idea of what the folks were like by quoting the opinion of Colonel Townley, an English officer, who resided in the Isle of Man a few years after this date. In regard to the Manx gentry, Townley writes :—"As to the higher ranks, the men are, in general, very civil, attentive, and very hospitable to strangers. The ladies are exceedingly civil, affable, and polite; very sprightly in conversation, and uncommonly neat and smart in their dress. There are many very pretty women in the Island. and some very accomplished. As to the middle ranks, they are decently civil and attentive even to strangers; but the lowest classes are rude, ungovernable, and uncivilized."4

But it may be remembered that, in addition to the natives, Society in Douglas was, after the Peace of Versailles, in 1783, recruited by a number of half-pay officers and their families. To these people, says a contemporary writer, "Douglas Society is considerably indebted, as they have given life and geniality to the town, and have contributed to polish the manners of the natives."

And another writer says :—"Many of the English gentlemen, resident here, are more acquainted with convivial enjoyments than with the pleasures of retirement. They are more Bon Vivants than Penserosos. Accordingly, the festive entertainments of the English are numerous and splendid; while each studies to emulate the other by the sumptuousness or delicacy of his table."5

But, whether English or Manx, they seem, at this time, to have indulged in quite a gay life, which had not yet, as between 1793 and 1814, been degraded by licence and excess. Public assemblies for dances and card parties, dinner parties, etc., were frequent.

Such was the little world into which Nessy Heywood was introduced at the age of twelve. But, in the absence of any contemporary records, save the very meagre notes which we have quoted (there was not even a local newspaper till November, 1792), it is impossible to give anything—and of Nessy herself, till 1786, there is no record at all—but the scantiest account of what went on. It is quite certain that Nessy and her brothers and sisters must have had an excellent education, but from whom they received it, either in Whitehaven or in Douglas, we do not know.

Douglas, it must be remembered, was quite a lively place at this period. There was a number of English soldiers quartered in the town; and sailors, English and Manx, of the Royal Navy and of the Merchant Service, swarmed on its quay; men of war hovered about, privateers brought in their prizes, the sailing packets and merchant ships came to and fro. Smuggling had by no means ceased. Recruiting parties and the press-gang were active. Riots were not unknown.

Probably one of the greatest interests to the young folk of the town in 1780 was the formation of the first regiment of the Royal Manx Fencibles in that year. In May of the following year, John Wesley preached in Douglas Market-place, and, perhaps, Nessy had the privilege of seeing and hearing him; and, in the same year, St. George’s was consecrated.

Such, then, was the place in which, and such were the people among whom, Nessy lived from her twelfth year till just before her death.



1 Apropos of this, it is interesting to note how intimate the connexion between the Isle of Man and Cumberland was during the latter party of the eighteenth century. During the Derby regime Liverpool was the chief port for the Island, but in Atholl days it was Whitehaven, which had the advantage of being much nearer. There was a regular Government packet between Whitehaven and Douglas, which started in 1767, and continued till 1825, though by the end of the century Liverpool was again beginning to attract the greater part of the Manx traffic. This connexion showed itself not only in trade, but in the frequent inter-marriages between Manx and Cumberland and Westmorland familes Thus the Christians, of Milntown, the Stevensons and the Taubmans and the Wilsons were all connected with the Senhouses of Netherhall ; the Quayles, of Bridge House, with the Speddings and the Le Flemings of Rydal Hall ; and the Moores, of the Hills and of Pulrose, with the Birketts. We would bear in mind, too, that the Christians were owners of Ewanrigg, in Cumberland ; and that in 1782 John Christian married his first cousin, Isabella Curwen, the heiress of Workington Hall, and so became a large landed proprietor in that country.

2 For a full account of the family see "The Manx Note Book," Vol. II., pp. 66-67.

3 The children at The Nunnery, John (b. 1775), Margaret (b. 1777), Isabella (b. 1779), who married General Goldie, and Dorothy (b. 1781), who married Col. Mark Wilks, were all younger than those we have named above.

4‘ Townley’s Journal," Vol. II., pp. 193-4.

5 "Robertson’s Tour," p. 25.


Back index next

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