[From Walker's Hibernian Magazine November & December 1802 pp675/680 + 729/733]

A sketch of the State of Manners, and of the present Condition of the Isle of Man
in a Letter from are Artist,
who lately passed a few Months there.

IN compliance with your flattering request, I sit down to give you some account of this remote Island, into which I have been led, partly by a desire to re-establish my health, but chiefly hy curiosity to see an ancient little kingdom, which, surrounded as it is by powerful neighbours, has yet, in a great measure, preserved its original independence ; and which, while it is defended by the fleets and armies of Great Britain, has contrived to elude sharing the burdens necessary for their support.

The Isle of Man is about thirty miles in length, and twelve in breadth. The population is supposed to be near forty thousand. There are four towns : Castletown, Douglas, Ramsay, and Peel. Castletown and Douglas are in the south of the island ; the former is the metropolis ; but the latter is the town of the most consequence, containing between four and five thousand inhabitants. Ramsay and Peel are in the north of the island, and are inferior in size even to Castletown. None of the towns can boast of much regularity or beauty in their construction ; in these respects Castletown is entitled to the preference. At Douglas is a superb newly-constructed pier ; the merchants. of this place are far from being satisfied with it, but the belles think it ' charming ;' it is used by them as a promenade, and gives them an opportunity of shewing themselves off to great advantage Within half a mile of Douglas a splendid mansion is erecting by the. Duke of Athol, which, when completed, will be a great ornament to the country. The houses of the gentlemen on the island are by no means elegant. Some of the rooms of Fort Anne, situated at the entrance of Douglas harbour, are well finished ; and the Nunnery near Douglas, belonging to Major Taubman, is a handsome building : annexed to it are extensive and judiciously laid-out gardens, including hot-houses, pineries &c. adjoining is a large wood, with serpentine walks, in which the major liberally allow, the inhabitants of the adjacent town to ramble at pleasure.

The legislature of the Isle of Man, similar to that of England, is composed of three estates, the king, the council, and the house of keys. The Council consists of the governor, the bishop, the deemsters, the vicars general, the clerk of the rolls, &c. The keys are twenty-four in number, including their speaker ; they are a self elected body, for when a vacancy occurs, the members choose two individual, (to whom it is essential that they possess some landed property in the island,) whose names are presented to the governor, one of whom the governor approves, and who, under pain of amercement, must take his seat in their parliament, which situation he retains for life. and from which he cannot resign without permission. The Manks have a full and distinct code by which they are governed. New laws may originate either with the council or with the keys, but must have their mutual concurrence. They are then sent for the approbation of the king. If they receive the royal sanction, what is called a Tynwald court is convened at the Tynwald hill, in the centre of the island, where such laws are promulgated to the people. Nothing can surpass the simplicity of this proceeding. The Tynwald hill is a circular artifical mound of earth, cut from the summit to the base into seats ; to this hill the governor, the officers of state, and the representatives of the people, walk in procession. The governor ascends to the top, the legislators take their places according to rank, and the crowd, standing at a respectful distance, patiently attend to the proclamation of the new edicts.

The island is divided into two districts, six sheadings and seventeen parishes. To each district there belongs a judge, who is called deemster, and who holds a court at his own discretion, generally once a week, for the trial of such causes as do not require the aid of a court of equity, or of a jury. From the judgment of the deemsters an appeal may be preferred to the staff of government, composed of the governor, the bishop, the deemsters, the water bailiff, and the clerk of the rolls. A further appeal may be made to the king in council, whose decree is final. There are four common law or term courts in the year. these are held both at Castletown and Ramsay, for the trail of all actions, real and personal, by a jury of six men. The deemsters are cojointly judges in this court; the governor, if he thinks proper may preside, and the water bailiff, and clerk of the rolls, are likewise members of the court. Eight chancery-courts or courts of equity, are held in the year, at which the governor acts as chancellor : the deemsters, water bailiff and clerk of the rolls, are members of the court. The water bailiff sits once a week in Douglas, for the trial of all causes that come within his jurisdiction ; he may either pass judgment himself, or refer the case to a jury, as occasion requires. In each town is a magistrate, called a high-bailiff, who takes cognizance of all matters of debt under the value of forty shilling. Appeals from these terminate in the decision of the king in council.

The Duke of Athol is the governor of the Isle of Man. Unfortunately considerable jealousy exists between him and the other branches of the Manks legislature. The circumstances attending the sale of the royalties, &c. on the Isle of Man to the crown of England, in 1764, are well known (see the Wars of England annexed, vol. vi. p. 412). His grace conceives that his ancestor was not sufficiently recompensed for the sacrifice he made, and wishes to obtain a more adequate remuneration. The Manks on the other hand, are apprehensive that this remuneration will be granted at their expence, and that the tenures by which they hold their estates may be shaken. The duke has presented a petition on the subject to the king in council, to oppose which the keys have sent a delegation from their own body.

The residence of the lieutenant-governor is at Castletown. Of him and of his lady every one speaks in the highest terms. - During the last season Mrs Shaw was in Bath, and it was gratifying to observe the universal regret which her absence from the island occasioned : amusement was at a stand, and her return was looked forward to by the younger part of the inhabitants as that of the fun after a long winter's night.

The church is under episcopal government. The bishop, whose title is Bishop of Sodor .and Man, has no vote in the British house of lords. Under him are two vicars general, and an archdeacon. The former as his representatives, hold ecclesiastical courts. The Manks clergy are educated in the island: after they have imbibed as much instruction as the little school of their native hamlet can afford, they are sent to what is called the college, at Castletown, where they complete their classical, mathematical, and theological, studies, under the superintendance of an English clergyman of very superior talents and learning. The livings are small ;- there are few which may amount to one hundred and fifty, or two hundred pounds; a year, but the generality do nor exceed sixty or eighty pounds, ; yet such is the saving knowledge of the clergymen, that out of this trifling stipend, several of them have contrived not only to bring up a family with decency, but even to accumulate small fortunes ! The ecclesiastical revenue is, collected in tithes, but in the distribution of these there js considerable complication. In some parishes the vicar invariably retains two thirds, and the residue is the property of the bishop. In other parishes this division takes place every second or every third year only, and in the intermediate years the whole of the tithes remains with the vicair. In some others a great proportion of the Tithes is paid to the Duke of Athol. About eighteen years ago, when Dr. Criggan, the present bishop, came to the island, the see was not ,worth more than 500l. a-year, which is scarcely a third of its value at the present day. The house (Bishops-court) was in a ruinous condition. The bishop repaired it, and made it habitable; but its appearance is still unworthy its possessor. It is exactly half-way between Peel and Ramsay; some trees about it serve as a shelter for several retired walks, and his lordship is employed in augmenting- their number. The bishop is near sixty ; in his countenance benevolence and penetration are strongly marked, at times the latter are strongly marked ; at times the latter is peculiarly severe, and at such moments it is difficult to bear steadily the scrutiny of his eye. He has great dignity in his deportment, especially when he addresses a stranger ; his manners are the most finished, his conversation replete with fashionable anecdote, and his style of expression is uncommonly fluent and elegant. His family are amiable, and highly accomplished, as may be supposed, when it is known that his lordship himself undertook the principal care of their education.

The Professions of attorney and barrister in the Isle of Man, are united in the same person; the fees are very small ; the retaining fee is only half-a-crown! From this circumstance arises the perpetual contention in which the Manks are involved. Though the courts are so numerous, they are ;always crowded with litigants, who contest the merest trifles surprising rancour and perseverance. A fruitful source of these petty suits is the frequency of the fairs, which, upon the average, occur nearly once a-week ; and there is scarcely a horse or a cow sold, that does not afford a subject for dispute. Among the advocates are men of considerable elocution, and we cannot help lamenting to see their energy wasted on such pitiful causes as those in which they are commonly engaged.

The two deemsters possess characters, the features of both of which are [prominent], but they are strikingly different. The southern deemster, Lace, is remarkable for the strength of his intellect - the northern deemster, Crellin, for the acuteness of his discernment. When on the bench, the one investigates closely the case before him - he embraces the whole subject with all its difficulties - he examines, he deliberates, and his decisions are consistent with his profound knowledge of the law. The other darts his eyes over the cause, perceives with the utmost rapidy and correctness its strong and its weak points, presses those which are essential to its elucidation, and instantly determines the question. The same variety of character prevails in private company. The southern deemster instructs you by the solidity of his observations - the northern one entertains you by the sprightliness of his wit : the former impresses his guests with the greatest respect for his understanding, the latter proves to them, at the expence of their sides, that he is eminently gifted with those talents which can set the table in a roar.

Cannon, protected by breast-works of earth, are placed in advantageous situations round the different bays of the island. In the beginning of the war two battalions of fencible infantry were raised. One of them has been for some time in Ireland, where the Manks soldiers have acquired much credit by their conduct. For the additional security of the island, a large corps of volunteer infantry was formed, and two troop; of yeonmanry cavalry were likewise embodied.

A few years ago, just after the French had landed in Cardigan bay, and when they were every day expected to pass up St George's channel, an alarm was spread, from the circumstances ofa large foreign built ship coming to anchor close to the point of Ayre, such was the promptitude of the fencibles and volunteers, and the spirit of the people in general, that in three hours all the southern forces had assembled on the beach, and were accompanied by every peasant who was capable of wielding a flail or pitchfork. The troops of the southern district was expediously marching to the assistance of their countrymen when they received intelligence the vessel was an East countryman the crew of which did not know where they had got to.

Some small manufactories of coarse linens and woolens are carried on, which are insufficient for the consumption of the island ; but the chief employment of the inhabitants is the famous herring-fishery. Their vessels :are near five hundred in number, :and, perhaps, are the finest boats in the world. The manner of building them is extraordinary, and displays much ingenuity ; the boatwrights have no moulds, but shape them entirely by the eye, reversing the usual method of construction, by first putting together the planks, and then inserting the timbers. They are from fifteen to twenty-five tons each, and a mode rate-sized boat, with all her rigging, sails, nets, &c. costs a hundred or a hundred anti, twenty guineas. The owner of the boat has three shares of the fish caught, and each man of the crew a single share. By an ancient law, the fishing is not allowed to begin until midsummer-day, except by express leave from the governor . it generally closes about the latter end of October. An admiral and a vice-admiral are every year appointed to the fleet, whose orders are strictly obeyed under severe penalties The sea-gulls, which fly about in immense flocks, direct them to the herring-shoals, towards which the fleet sail in the evening but none of them are permitted to cast their nets uttil the admiral gives the signal by lowering his flag, which he does immediately after sun-set. If the crew of any boat find, upon proving their nets that they are successful . they blow a horn, or strike fire with a flint and steel, to spread the happy news among their comrades.-Extraordinary as it may appear, the sparks produced by the collision of the flint and steel can be seen at a much greater distance than that in which the horn can be heard. When the boats are fortunate, each of them will catch in one night from twenty to one hundred maize of herrings: a maize is five hundred, a hundred is six-score and four herrings, which four are called one cast and tale or talley. The herrings squeak like mice when hauled out of the water, but die immediately. In the morning the fleet repair to the next port, where, in the first instance, they are obliged to supply the inhabitants of the island with whatever fish they may want ; their demands being soon satisfied a part of what is left is speedily purchased by vessels who make it a business to run with the fresh fish to different markets on the coasts of England, Scotland, and Ireland ; and the remainder is bought by the red-herring curers, &c. The boats being thus emptied of their cargoes, and the men having slept for a few hours, which they more frequently do by lying on the rocks in their wet clothes ; the fleet again proceeds to sea, to be in readiness for the next night's fishing

While the weather continues favorable, this is the routine every day from Monday to Friday ; but an unconquerable superstition prevents their going out either on Saturday or Sunday evening so that in every week they lose a night's fishing, of which with all due respect to religion, they certainly might avail themselves.

The fishermen last summer were much more successful than they have been for many years. So unproductive were the two or three seasons immediately, preceding that the inhabitants became dispirited, and made but a small provision of salt ;the consequence of which was that their stock was exhausted by the fishing of a fortnight and until the arrival of a fresh importation, the herrings were almost given away. Many boat-loads were sold at one shilling, ten-pence, and even six-pence a hundred, and great quantities were used for manure. The fish caught by the fleet in one night have been known to sell for four thousand pounds, and it is computed that near two hundred thousand pounds were taken for herrings last year in the isle of Man. This has a splendid sound ; but such a season is very rare, and when every circumstance is considered, some of the best informed men are far from being satisfied that the fishery is beneficial to the island. One gentleman in particular once held a situation which, by putting all the necessary documents into his possession, enabled him to inquire minutely into the subject. With the assistance of a friend, he made a most elaborate calculation of the profit and loss of three successive seasons. The price of the boats and nets, their wear and tear, the value of the labour of the fishermen, &c. were opposed by the: sums received for the herrings in various ways, all of which were ascertained with the utmost precision ; and the result of a fortnight's close investigation was that a balance appeared against the island. It is certain that the fishery is a cause of great neglect in cultivating the land. The common people prefer this hazardous occupation, in which, as in a lottery, there are some prizes though many blanks, to the moderate but certain gain that agriculture holds out to them. Thus you see on every side fields half tilled, which are capable of the highest improvement, and a scanty harvest rendered still more so, by being left to the unskilful management of women and children. In estimating the advantages and disadvantages of this mode of employment, it should not, however, be forgotten, that it adds much to the strength of the empire, by serving as a nursery for the British navy. Many of the Manks fishermen enter into the king's ships ; habituated from their infancy to the hardships and perils of the ocean, they soon acquire nautical knowledge, and become excellent seamen.

Some writers appear strongly solicitous to establish strongly marked distinction between the manners of the inhabitants of different countries. What is character is frequently exaggerated into caricature, and when the reader, whole expectations of originality have been excited to a high degree, becomes himself a spectator he is disappointed and disgusted, where, but for such distorted descriptions, he would have been satisfied and amused. That great varieties of character exist, cannot be denied, but seldom is it that these are not magnified by the imagination of the traveller, warmed by the wish to shew himself at scrutinizing observer of human nature. Those who visit the Manks, will find them not very unlike their neighbours, and yet with characteristic traits sufficiently distinguishing. The men are, in general, tall, stout, and well-proportioned ; boisterous yet kind ; warm in their attachments ; " sudden and quick in quarrel;" possessing general information, but seldom profound erudition. The inferior order, obliged to slave with the utmost perseverance during the continuance of the fishing season, seem then to exhaust their activity, and for the remainder of the year sink into a state of the deepest torpor. Eight or ten of them may be seen together, basking under the reflected sun-shine of a wall for whole days; and so satisfied are they with their moderate acquisitions, that it is not a trifling bribe that will rouse them from their lethargy into exertion. As a proof of this, it will only be necessary to mention, that) although the coasts of the island abound with the fine fish, of various kinds, yet the natives are often too indolent to make any attempt to procure them, and watch the Irish lobster-wherries, and other foreign boats, rifling the treasures which their lazy disposition induces them thus to neglect.

Few men of extraordinary talent have appeared in this little island,. probably because few occasions have offered of calling them forth. Of those who have been distinguished for superior intellects or virtue, the fame has not crossed the ocean. It' it is allowable to select an individual, the universal regret lately occasioned in the island by the death of the Rev. J. Stowell, master of the free grammar-school at Peel, would justify particularising his name.-He was the sixth brother of a family, proverbial for their abilities. Fraught with the strongest powers of mind, those difficulties which impede the progress of most of the votaries of learning, vanished before him He but touched the gates of science, and they flew open for his admission. Languages, mathematics, theology, natural philosophy, were equally familiar to him. In the pulpit his eloquence was irresistible : assisted by slight notes, he pronounced discourses which left an indelible impression oil his hearers. The unaffectedness, the suavity, and the elegance of his manners, captivated all who knew him. Notwithstanding the variety and depth of his knowledge, so free was he from pedantry, that, w hen in company, the scholar was ever kept back, unless when unavoidably compelled to appear. But What gave the finishing grace to his character was, that the qualities of his heart rivalled those of his head. Active in the service of his friends, he never allowed an opportunity of benefiting them to escape. Benevolence to the poor, he alleviated that misery which he had it not in his power wholly to remove ; in short he was in every respect an instance of what, unhappily for the world is rare, example forcibly illustrating precept.

[pt 2 p 729]

The women in the Isle of Man, with some exceptions, are not remarkable for elegance of form or delicacy of features. That sickly languor, so highly prized by our ladies of fashion, has not yet depressed the vivacity, or rendered pallid the ruddy cheeks of the Manks fair. - Those superficial accomplishments which are displayed in England with so much ostentation, and that contemptible affectation which is their result, are here little known. The practice of her domestic affairs, constitute the employment of the Manks wife : and, if not so refined as the dames of more polished nations, she is, perhaps as happy.

Landed property is very much divided in the island. There are scarcely six men who are proprietors of estates exceeding the value of five hundred a year. Almost every Manksman has a cottage, and a field large enough to produce potatoes to his herrings. Let not any young lady, who may honour this little sketch with a perusal, imagine that these cottages are like those in which according to her favourite romantic authors, the laughing lovers reside. - Here is no latticed casement, half hidden by the interwoven branches of the honeysuckle and the jasmine - no neatly thatched roof, over which the creeping ivy extends his embracing arms - no beds of blushing flowers, whose fragrance and whose beauteous tints delight the ravished senses - so smiling cherub, who with curly flaxen locks and glowing cheek sports on the adjacent lawn - no graceful female in muslin robe, and straw hat tied carelessly with ribbon of cerulean hue, chanting her rustic ditty o'er the brimming pail:- The large stones which the impetuosity of the mountain torrents force from their beds, unhewn, and piled in rude order, generally without cement of any kind, form the Manks hovel. [p 730]On entering you are nearly blinded with the smoke which proceeds from a heap of peat turf in the centre of the hut, and the unpleasantness of this sensation is not a little increased by the effluvia from the herring barrel, which at the same moment assails your olfactory nerves.

The interior of the cottage presents no very engaging scene ; the appearance of its tenants is in general dirty, and every object impresses you with the idea of poverty and wretchedness.

And yet, in such humble dwellings, and in so rude a garb, content can spread a charm, the absence of which is severely experienced by the inhabitants of the palace, decked out in the gayest apparel, and feasting on the most delicious viands.

The internal scenery of the Isle of Man is far from being beautiful the great want of wood is a principal cause of this defect ; the lines of- the mountains are not very fine ; The rivers likewise are so small, that they add little to the richness of the views. But for this universal tameness, ample compensation is made by the grandeur of some of the rock scenery on the east coast, particularly at Kirk Maughold-head, and in its vicinity the stupendous height of the rocks, their grotesque forms, the diversity of their combinations, the variously tinted mosses with which they are crowned, the obscure cavern by which they are perforated, the flocks of sea-birds wheeling in perpetual circles around them, the careless playing of the waves which approaching to a brilliant green hue, presently lash themselves into the whitest foam, altogether aford subjects, to imitate which would not disgrace the pencil of a Loutherbourg. Such scenes as these are peculiarly fitted for indulging in reveries of the imagination. The following lines were composed during a solitary evening's ramble among them:

[The long poem was omitted in the Monthly Mag and in the copy held by Manx Museum has been overpasted by a handwritten verse - omitted here]

The magnificent ruins of Peel Castle are well worth the visit of a stranger. They are of considerable extent, and present on every side the most picturesque appearance. From the top of Snafield,(the highest mountain in the island) the prospect will amply repay the labour of the ascent. On a fine day, England, Scotland, Ireland and, and Wales, are clearly to be seen. But what chiefly strikes those who are unused to such situations, is the view of the Country at their feet, and the conviction of their insularity, by the observation of the surrounding ocean. It is, indeed, difficult for one unaccustomed to scenes of this kind, to divest himself of a certain awful and apprehensive sensation He knows that the same power which caused the isle to heave its broad back from the depths of the sea, can in an instant depress it again ; and he feels the possibility that that instant may be the present one.

It is extraordinary, that in so small a place a distinct tongue should still be preserved. The Manks language is in some respects similar to the Erse. Almost every Manksman can speak English; their accent is very like that of Ireland, and they may easily be mistaken for Hibernians, by those who have not attended closely to the niceties of pronunciation.

Little Manks music is to be met with. There are a few original airs which have much of the wildness of the Irish. To these are sometimes sung ballads in the Manks language. the following is a literal translation of the first stanza of one of them ; probably the complaint of some philosophical though love-stricken fisherman, who has not caught more herrings than what are sufficient for a bachelor

Oh! we must postpone it
Until the time come;
For, if it be our fate to be each other's,
We cannot be disappointed
We shall entertain esteem for each other,
If we can never be married ;
You will still be in my mind,
And I shall often be speaking of you.

In this season of peace, many families, tempted by the exemption from taxes, will, no doubt, retire to the Isle of Man, as conceiving it a place where every article of subsistence may be procured at a more moderate rate than in any other part of the United Kingdom. A man of fortune will find a residence in this island proportionally cheaper than a man of limited income ; for the necessities-: the prices of beef, mutton, bread, &c. are much the same as in the neighbouring countries; but wine, game, poultry, fish, (particularly of the more delicate kinds, such as lobsters, turbot, &c.) are infinitely less dear. A moderately sized house (and no other is to be got) lets for fifteen or twenty guineas a-year; but that is the whole expence-there are no window-taxes, poor rates, &c. which swell the rents in England so exorbitantly. Coals are from a guinea to a guinea and a half a ton : the wages of female servants, three, four, and five guineas per annum : a carriage might be kept at a small expence ; and that superior splendour of style is not expected from the higher orders, which the usage of more haughty nations demands.

Society is divided into two classes, natives and strangers. Into the former, unless by some very fortunate coincidence of circumstance,, it is difficult to procure admission. Good introductions, and a long residence, are necessary, before any one is allowed to obtain an intimate footing : nor is this surprising, when it is considered how many men of broken fortune, and abandoned character have, from time immemorial, been duping the honest Manks. Formerly- the Isle of Man was their resort, their sanctuary; and, even now, scarce a week elapses in which several of these gentry are not sent to the castle, for debts contracted without the ability of payment. The elution which the natives feel themselves under the necessity of using, to guard against the impositions of such people, frequently produces an appearance of inhospitality foreign to their real dispositions, This is more observable in the south of the island, where the influx of strangers is the greatest ; and one, unacquainted with the cause of this reserve, would, perhaps, be induced to give the Manks a character which does not belong to them

As may easily be supposed in so small a spot, a complicated chain of affinity binds together the whole of the inhabitants. It is not uncommon to see a master uncle giving orders to a servant niece ; or a cousin, who has been unsuccessful in the world attending behind the chair of his more fortunate relation. Freedom of conversation, when speaking of any individual in the island, is dangerous ; for it is highly probable that the person you address, is connected in some manner or other with the person on whom you may be commenting.

The Manks are fond of dancing, and dance well. Formerly there were regular subscription assemblies at Douglas every fortnight ; but, owing to a disagreement with the owner of the rooms, they have been discontinued. Two balls in the year are given at Castletown, one on the king's birth-day, the other on the queen's ; and their are frequent private dances. - Cards likewise are a favourite amusement of their leisure hours. At Ramsay, during the last winter, a mode of entertainment was substituted, which did the residents in that little town infinite [] , as it evinced a refinement of taste that would do honour to the most polished metropolis. A society of ladies and gentlemen was formed, which met three evenings in the week, for the purpose of reading Shakespeare. the library of the gentleman who suggested the idea, afforded six copies, and others were collected in the neighbourhood, so that each character of the drama was supported by a separate individual. Trifling distinctions of dress and decorations were introduced to prevent confusion, and this rational plan was unremittingly pursued, until those of our immortal author's works, which were thought proper to be read, were gone through, several of them repeatedly.

Thus have I attempted to give you a faint idea of this little island, from which I am on the point of sailing, not without feeling considerable regret at quitting a place, where, during my short stay, I have experienced attention and kindness that will never be effaced from my memory.


Douglas, Isle of Man May 16th, 1802


Cubbon in his Bibliography states "The author is believed to be W. H. Watts, an artist, who was for a short period Drawing Master at King William's College, and who produced some brilliant lithographed pictures of Manx scenery which are now unfortunately rare" [? confusion with A E Watts?]- It was reprinted(with several excisions) in Montly Magazine Sept 1802 pp37/44

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