[from Land of Home Rule, 1893]
THE Civil War of the seventeenth century passed lightly over the Isle of Man. The people did not suffer from the execution of Lord Derby at Bolton, or of William Christian on Hango Hill.1 The transfer of the Island to the Parliament and its restoration to the Derby dynasty were equally effected without blood-shedding, and its inhabitants were left free to pursue their own callings and promote their own prosperity in their own way. For the first time in its history the lot of the little island was becoming more tolerable than the lot of the larger island of England, and, in consequence, fresh light was thrown on its circumstances. William Blundell, a gentlemen of Lancashire, who had fought on the side of the Stuarts, who had been badly wounded at the siege of Lathom, and who, "wearied with being so often wakened at midnight to fly from the King's and Parliament's troops (both equally feared because equally plundering)," resolved to banish himself voluntarily for a time to that "little molehill moted about with ye main sea," where he hoped to sleep in peace without "any nightmares to molest" him.
Blundell's hopes were not founded on any knowledge he possessed of the island. Though he had probably himself frequently seen its mountains from his own Lancashire hills, he knew no more about it than the ordinary Englishman of to-day knows about Cochin-China or Timbuctoo; for he tells us that, as he was "rocked in ye floating craddle" of the little skiff which was carrying him to the island, there occurred to him "Moses' expression and interpretation of ye word Manna, in ye sacred text of its original language importing, . . . they wist not what it was; which name may still (not unfitly) be given to this island, for notwithstanding all yt any have written thereof; we are still put to ask, What is this island? How is it governed? With what laws, political or ecclesiastical? The power, antiquity, and succession of ye Kings and Lords of Man?"
A gentleman who could indulge in such speculations while he was rocked in his little skiff on his passage was just the man to take some steps to make the Island a little better known; and accordingly, during his stay there, Blundell collected the materials for his history, which, after lying for more than two hundred years in manuscript, has been lately published by the Manx Society.
While Blundell was collecting the materials for his work, Fairfax was selecting Chaloner as his representative in the Island; and Chaloner set an example to his successors by writing "A Short Treatise of the Isle of Man." A few years later Chaloner's conduct in this respect was followed by William Sacheverell, who held the governorship of the Island in 1693 ; a generation later still, Waldron published his description of the Isle of Man; while Bishop Wilson about the same time composed the narrative which he called a history of the Island.
Thus the veil is suddenly lifted, and we find ourselves face to face with the people whose history and character we have hitherto endeavoured to trace by incidental references in other works. And the account which we derive from Blundeli's pages is one of comparative prosperity. "All parts of the Island, as well the north as the south, yieldeth store of all sorts of grain, both barley, wheat, rye, and oats (yet of ye last the most), but not only of each satisfying the inhabitants' necessity, but also affording an overplus for exportation unto other parts; and ye corn of this island is so purely good as yt you shall not find, no not in England, either better bread or better beer than is there commonly sold." 1 He goes on to add that, besides corn, the Island yieldeth good store of flax and hemp, but that the cattle were little, low, small and poor, while the horses were "frightfully poor, and the most unsightly that may anywhere be found. . . . You are scarce able to discover any head for hair, which is of a sooty black colour. A reasonable tall man needs no stirrups to ascend him, but, being mounted, no man need to desire a better travelling beast; they will plod on freely and willingly with a soft and round amble, setting as easy as your Irish hobbies; they have no need of spurs or switch." 2 The sheep of the Island were also commended; the mutton fat and well tasted, the wool good, and the Laughton wool, as the brown wool of the native breed is still called, exceeding other wool in fineness. When Blundell was on the island, the great Earl of Derby wore an entire suit made of this wool. Agriculture was not the only pursuit of the natives. "The sea feedeth more of the Manksmen than the soil. It yieldeth to the Islanders presently of divers sorts of fish, but of no one sort so much as of herrings in their season." The herring-fishery from the earliest recorded period had been an object of care both to State and Church. The Church exacted its tithe on ali fish caught either at sea or on the coast. The Lord was entitled to one maze out of every five maze of herrings caught.' The remainder of the catch was divided into eight parts, "whereof he that furnisheth the nets hath three parts; he that is owner of the boat, one part; the other four parts are subdivided among the fishermen that assisted to catch them; for in every boat that goeth out to fish there are four fishermen; so as if the owner of the boat be also owner of the nets, he hath the half of all the herring that are taken in that boat and in that net." 2 The whole people, therefore, from the Lord to the lowest hind, drew large benefits from the fishery. The Lord's rent was usually paid out of the profits obtained from while the people made the herrings throughout the year their daily and constant food.4 How largely the herring extended into the lives of the people may be inferred from the oath which was and is still administered to the Deemsters. They were and are sworn to "execute the laws of this Isle justly betwixt our Sovereign Lady the Queen and her subjects within this Isle, and betwixt party and party as indifferently as the herring backbone doth lie in the middle of the fish."'
The herring is a fish whose movements are often uncertain, and no one has hitherto been able to determine the reason why it occasionally deserts and occasionally frequents parti cular banks. Such uncertainty, which affects the fishery off the Manx coast now, apparently existed in the seventeenth century, for Tynwald in 1610 set out with much care the orders to be observed in the herring-fishery, "whensoever it pleaseth God to send that blessing;" while Bishop Wilson, a hundred years later, added a petition to the Litany, which is still always read in Manx churches: "That it would please Thee to restore and continue to us the blessings of the sea." 2
In 1610 the Lieutenant, Deemsters, Officers, and twenty- four Keys, "having taken the examinacons of fower anncyent men, who perfectlie did remember the hearing-ffishing in this Isle," directed that every farmer should provide himself with eight fathomes of netts, "conteyning three deepings of nyne score mashes upon the rope," and furnished with buoys and corks used for fishing. No one was to fish before the 16th July; no one was to fish from Saturday morning till Sunday night; no one was to fish in the daytime; and no one was to shoot his nets till the Admiral or Vice-Admiral of the Fleet had given directions for doing so. These minute regulations do not seem to have been successful. Perhaps no laws could have improved an industry which was ruined by the heavy exactions of Church and State. And in 1613 Lady Derby, being "trulie advertised that because of the great imposicon . . . of custom-heyrings, not on lie strangers have refrayned to come to the late fishinge of this Isle, but also the Islanders themselves, being thereby discouraged, did not shewe their willinge minds, nor consequentlie use their industrious paynes in and about the fishinge "had the good sense largely to reduce the customs both for strangers and natives.1
The fruits of the earth and the blessings of the sea were the chief resources of the Manx in the seventeenth century. But there was already evidence that the land was rich in mineral wealth. There are traces of old mine-workings in the south of the Island, which were apparently commenced in some pre-historic period; for, in lately resuming operations, the adventurers have found a stone axe, which had been, it seems, employed by the original explorers. Blundell, indeed, shrewdly " confided" that it will be "experienced hereafter that Man is far richer under ground than it is above." On the other hand, he noticed that there was no coal, that the only fuel was gorse, ling. and turf, and that timber was so scarce that the mercers, "when they come into England for other commodities, buy up our birch brooms, and of them make rods and sell them to parents to correct their children and schoolmen to discipline the schollars."
The Island in Blundell's time was "in a mean populous." The gentry, who were few, lived in "high, handsome, well- built houses." Some of them had "good though not great estates; the greatest that I could be informed of exceeded not £600 or £700 per annum, the rest have some £500, £400, £300, or under." The peasants, on the other hand, lived under less favourable conditions. They wereso Blundell said "the true Manks breed, and home-bred natives of Man; tall of stature and of a strenuous bulk, but bootish as ye Beotian, having their wits as gross as their ayre." Their houses were "mere hovels, compacted of stones and clay for the walls, thatch'd with broom, most commonly containing one room only." "In this smoking hut, like ye wild Irish, of whom many opine them to be antiently descended, doth the man, his wife, and children cohabit, and in many places with ye geese and ducks under ye bed, the cocks and hens over his head, the cow and calf at the bed's feet. Their constant diet is only salt butter, herrings, and oatcakes; their drink is either simple water, or water mixed with milk, or at best butter-milk." Yet they were "a people sooner to be drawn by the ears than dragged by the cloths (easily persuaded but with difficulty compelled), and therefore for above two hundred and forty years. have they persevered in their loyalty and have been constant idolaters of ye Stanleys, who never forced, but rather courted, their consent to new laws and impositions. They never mutinied, never rebelled. Wherefore yt character yt was given (and is related by Plutarch) of Marius, his Moyles, may fitly be applied unto these Manksmen, a people painful and willing to do whatsoever their Lords shall command without grudging or reluctance."
The laws were severe. The gallows were kept in readiness for the felon, the whipping-stock for the beggar and the idle. But the severity of the laws tended to work their own cure. Theft of goods not worth sixpence was not apparently accounted felony, and juries were accordingly accustomed to find that the goods which the prisoner was accused of stealing were not worth that sum. In 1629, during the governorship of Edward Christian, Tynwald addressed itself to the difficulty.
"As in every well-ordered commonwealth, wholesome statutes, or(lers, and laws, answerable to the times, are usually lnvented, prepared, and enacted for the purpose of avoidincr such present and future annoyances, inconveniences, and losses, as the magistrates find the members thereof to be subject unto and suffer;" so it was enacted, among other things 1st. That whensoever any thief shall be found to steal either mutton, sheep, goat, swine, &c.. the same shall not be priced by the jury of indictment (as hath been accustomed), who sometimes valued such stollen goods under the' value of vid., thereby out of a foolish, petty, and partiall regard, to extenuate the rigour of the law in favour of the malefactors, but that every sheep, &c., of what age or worth soever it be, being stollen, shall hereafter be found to be fellony in the offender to death ipso facto, upon the inquisition taken, without valuing or distinguishing the price.
"2nd. Stealing and cutting of beehives in gardens shall be fellony in like manner to death, without judging the price.
"3rd. Also, whereas such as have stolen turf, ling, gorse, robbed gardens, clipped other men's sheep, stollen corn and hay out of fields' and haggards, stollen geese, hens, ducks, or comitted such like pillfereys and fellony, have all of them been connyved at and slightly let pass: Be it therefore ordained that all such manner of theft, if it amount to the value of sixpence, shall be fellony to death in the offender; and, under the value, to be whipped, or set upon a wooden horse, ordained for such offenders at the discretion of the Captaine; and least the simple jurors, who in such cases may be doubted, will not enter into due consideration of such fellony, and esteem to their full worthe: Therefore every 'coroner, soe often as cases for inquirey of these fellonys happen to fall out, shall choose and impanell of the most sufficient men in the parishes to be the jurors."
Offences against property under the two first sections were, in other words, to be always punishable by death; under the third section, were to be always 'tried by jurors of substance.
"Good and wholesome laws," in the opinion of those who have, are usually directed to the repression of those who have not; and the laws of Governor Christian were not perhaps much more bloodthirsty than those which disgraced the English Statute Book at the commencement of the nineteenth century.
In Blundell's time the government of the Island was almost exclusively in the hands of strangers. With the exception of the Deemsters, none of the principal officers was a native of the island, "yt is of ye Manks breed, born in Man; but they were English born and of [Lord Derby's] own county of Lancashire, and the most of them his tenants."
Chaloner's account is less flattering than Blundell's. With him, the poverty of the island is its greatest security; while its trade, "in regard it produceth not any commodities of value, neither is improved by way of manufacture, nor bath merchants nor shipping belonging to it, hardly deserveth a chapter by itself." Sacheverell, at the end of the century, adds some other touches. He observes that Governor Greenhalgh had taught the people the art of liming their lands, and that the better sort were improving the breed both of their cattle and of their horses. He adds the important fact that the militia consisted of about 2000 men, a circumstance which indicates the probable population of the island at from 12,000 to 15,000 souls.'
From these various accounts it seems possible to derive some idea of the condition of the people in the seventeenth century. Most of them seem to have lived amidst circumstances which remind the reader of the lot of the Scotch crofter or the Irish cottier. But the island was more fortunate in its situation, in its climate, and in its soil, than 'Western Ireland or the Outer Hebrides. Its autonomous institutions gave it, more over, the advantage of a resident gentry, who, whether they were introduced to it by Lord Derby or were Manx men by birth, must have had some influence in leavening the people among whom they dwelt. The island, therefore, was at once more fortunate, and had the potentiality of a much better fortune, than was in store for the Hebrides, with which it had been once so closely connected. During the next two centuries it was destined to undergo many vicissitudes; but none of the changes throtigh which it passed interfered with the development of its resources, or with the growth of comfort amongst its people.
1 Hango Hill, where Iliam Dhone was shot, and which was the place of public execution, is situated a short distance to the north of Castletown, between King William's College and Castletown Bay. Lord Derby erected a block-house upon it, which is unfortunately rapidly disappearing before the ravages of the sea. It is said to owe its name to the use to which it was put, Hango Hill being the hill of hanging. Surnames and Place-Nanses. Isle of Man. p. 202.
2 Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xxv. p. 39.
3 Perhaps the commencement of the oath ought also to be given: "By this book, and by the holy contents thereof, and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above and in the earth beneath in six days and seven nights, I, A. B., do swear," &c. The people who drew this oath were evidently ignorant that the Jewish day began in the evening: and, as we read in Genesis, that the evening and the morning Were the first day, inferred that there must have beets seven evenings or nights before God rested on the seventh day from the labour of creation.
3 This addition to the Litany was possible, because the Act of Uniformity does not apply to the Isle of Man. The only other alteration made in the Service of the Church has been the omission during the last five years of the prayer for the High Court of Parliament, and the addition of a prayer for the Governor and Legislature of the Island.
4 The race thus instituted is said to have been called the Derby; and the Manx are fond of declaring that the Derby was run in the Isle of Man the best part of a century before it was run at Epsom.
5 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. ~. A maze of herrings contains 123 fish for tithe fish see ibid., p. 44.
6 Blundell, in Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xxv. p. 85.
7 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 54.
8 Blundell, Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xxv. p. 86.
9 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. pp. 73, 74, 89.
10 Sacheverell, therefore, indirectly confirms Wilson's estimate that the population consisted of 13,971 persons. Life of Wilson, p. 525.
11 Train says, on the authority of the MS. Statute Book, that "so early as the year 1584 the attention of the Legislature was turned towards the improvement of the breed of horses. 'Whosoever shall keep a stoned horse, unless he be five quarters of a yard high, and worth six shillings and eight pence, shall, upon presentment to the Great Inquest, be fined in three shillings and four pence.' Horses, therefore, in 1584, could not have been larger than Shetland ponies. Almost exactly a hundred years afterwards, Lord Derby, with a view ' to the encouragement of tenants here to breed good horses,' offered a plate 'of f~ to be run for by the Manx horses upon the first day of July in every year, being the birthday of our honbl. Lord Strange."' And the Statute Book of that year directed that "such as have a mind to put in horses to run the said race shall enter their names at the Clerk of the Rolls at or before the fifith day of July next, with the name of the horse he intends to put in, if he have any, and his colour, and whether it be horse, mare, or gelding" (Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. 1. p. 542).