[From Land of Home Rule, 1893]
THE preceding chapter has been confined to the negotiations respecting the sale of the island to the Crown, from the accession of the third Duke of Athole in 1764 to the final arrangement concluded by the Act of 1805. It is time now to retrace our steps, and to endeavour to describe the consequences of the Revestment on the Manx people.
In one respect the poor gained by the revestment. Tynwald, from its closer connection with the English Government, realised the necessity of assimilating its own laws to those of England, and in 1777 it accordingly swept away some old statutes, which had become "insufferable and oppressive," repealing, among others, those which regulated the wages and labours of artificers and servants.
Service in many instances had been compulsory. By an old customary law, which was recognised by the insular statutes, many official persons the Deemsters, coroners, moars, and serjeants of baronies were entitled to claim for their own use the services of any person who was not already in the employment of the vicar of a parish or of a member of the House of Keys. "The ceremony was performed by an officer called a sumner, who laid a straw over the shoulder of the person so required and said, 'You are hereby yarded for the service of the Lord of Man, in the house of his Deemster, moar, coroner, or serjeant of barony." This remarkable system was not the only instance of compulsory service. By an old customary law, which was embodied in the statutes in 1577, and which, singularly enough, still remains unrepealed, 2 any of the Lord's tenants had the right to complain to the Deemster that he was "destitute" of servants; and the Deemster was thereupon to impannel a jury charged to discover vagrant servants, who were then allotted to the farmer, the farmer who paid the highest rent being served first: "And if there be no such servants, and if such need be, then he that beareth five shillings rent unto my Lord to serve him that beareth ten shillings rent, rather than the Lord his land fall to decay."
These harsh restrictions on individual liberty were the more oppressive because the wages of labourers were minutely fixed by statute, and fixed not in the interests of the labouring classes. By an old statute of 1609, for instance, every manservant being a plowman was to receive thirteen shillings and fourpence a year, and not above; every driver ten shillings, and every horseman eight shillings, and not above.3 It is true that, in addition to these wages, the servant was entitled to his keep, and the servants made by juries had a right to complain to "four honest and sufficient neighbours" to certify "what dyett and usage they ought to have."4 This provision, however, could have mitigated only partially the hardship of compulsory service, or the almost equal injustice of limiting by statute the wages which a man should receive for his labour.
The Act of 1609, like all laws opposed to sound principles, could not be enforced; and Tynwald in 1667 was forced to admit that servants were receiving double the wages which the statute directed, and that men were pretending that the said statute did not apply to ordinary servants, but only to such servants as were made by juries and yarding. Confronted with these facts, Tynwald would have been wise to have repealed the law. Instead of doing so, it merely re-enacted it. " Whereas, notwithstanding the statute of 1609 . . . servants will not of late years hire for double the wages so mentioned . . . not considering that the farmer is far more unable now than formerly to pay the same, in respect of the scarcity of money, and the cheap rates both of corn and cattle; and yet are the servants in a better condition to subsist by the cheapness of cloth, both woollen and linen, and all other commodities they stand in need of. And whereas it may be conceived that the wages mentioned in the said statute was only intended for such servants as were made by juries and yarding, albeit the foresaid statute is plain to the contrary . . . be it hereby ordered, enacted, and declared that there be a restraint of such exorbitancy in the servants; that (considering the cheapness of all commodities at present, and that probably the same may rise higher hereafter, and so continue for some time) there be this moderation made on both parts, viz., that every sufficient plowman shall have for his wages fifteen shillings, and not above; every driver ten shillings; every horseman or horselad eight shillings . . . and every maid-servant of ability to undertake and perform her master's or mistress's service, the wages of nine shillings the year, and not above.''5
Only one result could have followed from such a statute. Any promising youth must have been driven from a country which so grudgingly rewarded his services. The Manx Legislature had, indeed, placed special difficulties on the emigration of the Manx people. One of the earliest laws in the Statute Book had directed that no one born and resident in the Island should leave it without the Governor's license and had branded disobedience to the law as felony. In 1655 the law was strengthened, "and it was ordered that whosoever shall transport any men or women servants out of the Isle without special license first had and procured from the Governor . . . shall forfeit and be proceeded against in the strictest and severest manner that by law shall or may be instituted for every tyme offendinge." 3 But even this Act was not found stringent enough. The Governor's pass was too easily procurable; and the Legislature in 1715 had to confess that " the servants of this Island, both men and women, as soon as they attain the age of sixteen or seventeen years, and fit to serve in the country, do, under the notion of necessity or other pretence, obtain license, and serve their whole lives in other countrys . . . whereby this island is no better than a nursery for other places, and the useful servants going off, and but a few left, besides such depraved, useless, or inactive people' who are rather a burden than any real service to the Island, upon which will inevitably ensue the utter decay, not only of husbandry and tillage, but also of all kinds of trade." 4
One obvious remedy was available for this difficulty. The young people were leaving the Island because of the intolerable injustice of the labour laws. If the laws had been repealed, if servants, like other folk, had been left free to make their own bargains, the difficulty would have disappeared. Such a remedy, however, would hardly have been adopted by any Legislature in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, and the little self-elected Chamber which represented the people in the Isle of Man could not be expected to act on sounder economical principles than the Parliaments of larger countries. Tynwald, therefore, instead of adopting a wise and liberal policy, endeavoured to prevent the "inconveniences " by placing a restriction on the prerogative of the Governor; and decided that in future no unmarried young man or woman, not well known to the Governor, should have a license to depart this Island unless they produced a certificate from the vicar and captain of the parish that they had never been in service: and that persons in service should have no license to depart until they produced a certificate that they were twenty-five years of age,l and that they had served for seven years or other lawful apprenticeship.2
The Act of 1713 marks the lowest point to which this legislation descended. In 1747 Tynwald took a little more sensible course, and suspended for three years the legislation relating to the yarding of servants. In 1753 it retraced its steps, and again permitted yarding; but in 1763 it raised the rate of wages for men to £2 and for women to £1 a year; 1 and at last, in 1777, declaring that it was "expedient to repeal all obsolete and useless laws, which, however properly adapted to more early ages, are now become insufferable and oppressive, it revived the statute of 1747, and swept away the labour legislation of the seventeenth century.2
Thus, in one important particular, the closer connection which the Act of Revestment induced between the Island and the English Government operated to the marked advantage of the most numerous and most dependent classes of the Manx people. In almost every other respect the revestment inflicted serious injury upon them. They had thriven on smuggling; ruin seemed imminent on its suppression. Ports which had been crowded with shipping, laden with the teas and spices of the East, with the tobacco and sugar of the West, and with the wines of Europe, were thenceforward frequented by only a few coasting vessels. Property, which had risen in value, or which had been almost created by the demand for warehouses and offices due to the illicit traffic, became unsaleable. The merchants of Liverpool and Glasgow, who had made the Island, from which they had drawn their irregular profits, their place of business, hastily left its shores; 3 and the bold seafaring men, who had earned their livelihood by running cargoes from Douglas to the Scotch, English, Welsh, and Irish coasts, found that their chief occupation was gone
Yet, in the hour of its distress, the Island found strange means of regaining some of its former prosperity. It had lost the presence of British merchants engaged in an illegal trade: it suddenly became the favourite residence of gentlemen whose faults or whose misfortunes made it inconvenient for them to reside in Great Britain.
By an Act of Tynwald passed in 1737, the year which succeeded the Duke of Athole's accession to the sovereignty of the Island, it was enacted that " any person prosecuted in this Isle for a foreign debt . . . shall for the future be held to bail only for his personal appearance to such action, and for the forthcoming of what effects he bath within this island, to answer the judgment upon the same." 1 " This was the law," wrote Train, " which rendered Man, for nearly a century afterwards, the sanctuary of the unfortunate and the profligate of the surrounding nations, who flocked thither in such numbers as to make it a common receptacle of the basest of their kind." 2
Perhaps it may be necessary in these later days to explain how such a thing was possible. In the period, during which the law was in force, the only remedy in Great Britain against the debtor who was not in trade was to make him insolvent, and practically the only remedy against the insolvent was imprisonment. The law gave the creditor power to throw the insolvent into prison till he either discharged his debt or proved that he had no property to pay it. For one portion of his property the law, indeed, had such reverence, that up to 1833 real property was not liable for the discharge of simple contract debts.
A law, therefore, which exempted the debtor from arrest for his English debts in the Isle of Man, enabled the dishonest to live in the island without risk, and, if he were a wealthy man, with all the luxuries which his riches could procure him. Men of wealth who found it inconvenient to pay their debts made the Island their home; and, though some Manx people were honest enough to desire that the law should be amended, and that the Island should no longer be made the refuge of fraud or misfortune, it was openly replied that " the prosperity of the country arose from its being the residence of (such) strangers, and that w ithout them it would be a miserable place.'' l
Society of this character did not tend to raise the moral tone. The people who were spending the most money who formed what, in a larger country, would be called the classes were persons notoriously evading their creditors and shunning the discharge of their just liabilities. A witty visitor at Douglas is said to have written the following lines:
" When Satan tried his arts in vain
The worship of our Lord to gain,
The earth (quoth he) and all is shine,
Except one spot which must be mine;
'Tis barren, bare, and scarce a span,
By mortals called the Isle of Man.
That is a place I cannot spare,
For all my choicest friends live there." 2
A better time was, however, gradually coming. In England in 1813 Romilly was carrying the Act which opened the prison doors to thousands and tens of thousands of insolvents. In 1814 Tynwald followed, although imperfectly, his example, and passed a cautious measure for the insolvent's relief. In the same year, urged on by the English Government, it took a much more important step, and repealed the iniquitous provisions Of the Act of 1737, which had made the Island the refuge for debt and fraud. Yet the measure exempted from its operation all persons who had resided in the Island for more than six months, and who were not indebted to the Crown, who had not fled from their bail, or who had committed no offence against the bankruptcy laws. Notwithstanding these exceptions, the effect of the Act was large. " Many withdrew from the Island to seek protection elsewhere, carrying with them their unjustly acquired wealth, which otherwise might have found its way into the pockets of the islanders. As this was an event which had been totally unexpected, a sudden panic struck the greater part of the native inhabitants, and a stagnation of trade followed similar to that which took place at the revestment; all indulged in the most gloomy apprehensions as to the future prospects of the community; [while], although the Non-Protection Act had been passed by the insular Legislature at the instigation of the British Government, the Duke of Athole was blamed by the islanders for being the chief promoter of the unpopular enactment." l
The reed on which the Island leaned had again broken. The British Legislature in 1765 had deprived it of the profits of an illicit trade. Its own Legislature in 1814 had declared that it should be no longer the refuge for debt and fraud. But, just as smuggling lingered for years after the passage of the Mischief Act, so the Island for some time after 1814 continued the resort of fraud and misfortune. The law, in the first place, did not apply to those who had made it their refuge before 1814; and, in the next place, its remoteness and the cheapness of prices combined to recommend it. Thus it maintained the reputation which the Protection Act had gained for it when it was no longer subject to the reproach which that Act entailed; and readers of "The Newcomes " will remember that, when Mr. Honeyman's friends met to consider what could be done for him, Mr. Warrington was on Mr. Pendennis's side, and urged that the law should take its course. " Why help a man," said he, " who will not help himself. Let the law sponge out the fellow's debts, set him going again with twenty pounds when he quits the prison, and get him a chaplaincy in the Isle of Man."
The Island, too, was becoming better known, and the greater knowledge of it was adding to its welfare. The cheapness at which people could live in it was attracting other residents besides debtors; the stories which were told of its scenery and climate were tempting visitors to brave the discomforts of the inevitable sea-passage. Woods, writing in 1811, said "that a family may live, especially in the country, and more particularly in the northern part, at a very small expense." He adds, " I was informed that half a century ago a gentleman might keep his carriage and live sumptuously for £100 per annum." Such conditions naturally tempted many persons to reside in it. When Boswell suggested writingan account of the Island, moreover, he probably regarded it as unknown as Corsica. In the beginning of the nineteenth century it was becoming known. Townley published a journal kept in the Isle of Man in 1791; Robertson his tour through the Island in 1794; Feltham his excellent account of it in 1798; Woods followed with his account of its past and present state in 1811. A mail service was established, the mails leaving Whitehaven every Monday night (if possible), and the packet made up fifteen beds. A still larger boat with fifty feet keel, the size of a first-class fishing-boat, sailed occasionally from Liverpool, and performed the journey on an average in twenty-four hours.l Literature was also adding to the knowledge of the Island. Scott, whose brother Thomas, it may be recollected, was among those who had sought protection in the Island from his creditors,2 with the assistance of Train's investigations, wrote " Peveril of the Peak" in 1827. Wordsworth, in 1833, paid the visit to the Island which inspired nearly a dozen sonnets. Matthew Arnold some years later wrote the well-known poem to a gipsy child whom he met on the beach at Douglas.
Thus, though no one could have anticipated a time when the Island was to become the play-ground of Northern England, and the summer traffic between its shores and the English coasts was largely to exceed in volume the summer traffic between England and the Continent, the Island was becoming better known and more frequented; and the stream of visitors, slender as it still was, was increasing the resources at its disposal. While these various causes, however, were slowly preparing a brighter future, its existing condition still continued unsatisfactory. The old disagreements between the Duke and the people were intensified in 1814 by an appointment which the Duke made in that year; for a vacancy in the bishopric enabled him to select his nephew, George Murray, son of the Bishop of St. David's, for the See.
In consequence, from 1814, the two chief personages in the Island were uncle and nephew. The uncle had already made himself unpopular by the persistent manner in which he had pressed his own claims, to the injury, as it was thought, of those of the people. The nephew was, unfortunately, destined to acquire similar unpopularity. Up to the time of Bishop Wilson, tithe seems to have been paid by the farmers, not merely on corn crops, but on green crops. Later bishops had, however, waived the claim, or, at any rate, had forborne to collect that portion of their tithe. Bishop Murray revived the demand, offering to commute the whole tithes for a fixed annual payment of £6000 a year. Tithe commutation would probably have been beneficial both to the Church and the people, 'out the sum for which the Bishop offered to commute the tithe was perhaps excessive. It exceeded, in fact, by about one-tenth the sum for which the tithes were ultimately commuted in 1839. It is not surprising, therefore, that Tynwald rejected the Bishop's proposal, and it perhaps is equally not surprising that the Bishop, chagrined at its rejection, should have decided on enforcing the tithe on green crops. Carrying his claim in 1825 to the highest tribunal, the King in Council, he obtained a decision in his favour. But it was one thing to obtain a judgment from a court of law, it was another to carry out the decision of the law courts. Ireland was at this tine showing that tithe-proctors were powerless before a determined people, and in the little arena of the Island the scenes which were disgracing Ireland were re-enacted. Riots occurred; the people assembled in such numbers that they overpowered the small body of troops which was alone available to preserve order; and the Bishop, convinced that the struggle which he had commenced was hopeless, abandoned his claim. But the unpopularity which his conduct had provoked did not cease with its abandonment. The Bishop found that the claim which he had endeavoured to enforce was neither forgotten nor forgiven; the Government of England rightly considered that the best method of restoring peace was to remove the cause of disorder; and accordingly, in 1827, Lord Goderich translated Murray to the See of Rochester.
Two years before the Bishop had carried his claim to the PrivyCouncil,and four years before his translation to Rochester the Duke, his uncle, had become wearied of a long contest in which he had acquired nothing but unpopularity. Accordingly, in 1823, he intimated his readiness to sell his whole remaining interests in the Island, and in 1825 Parliament passed an Act empowering the Treasury to buy them.
In accordance with the provisions of this Act, arbitrators were appointed by the Treasury and the Duke to ascertain the value of the annuity granted to the Duke in 1805, of any reserved sovereign rights which the Duke still claimed and possessed, and of all his real property, manorial and other rights, and ecclesiastical patronage; and, after a long inquiry, the commissioners arrived at the following valuation:
Annuity under Act of 1805
Lands or quit-rents and alienation fines
Ecclesiastical patronage, mines, and other rights
A Bill to give effect to this sale was introduced into the House of Commons in 1829, but was not proceeded with; the Government probably considering that it had power to complete the purchase without fresh legislation.
Thus, from first to last, the English Government paid the Duke of Athole close upon half a million of money for the little Island which, four centuries before, had been granted to a remote ancestor on the singular tenure that he should present to the Crown a couple of falcons on coronation day. Verily, in the interval, the unearned increment had rolled up in the Duke's favour. The price, of course, was absurdly extravagant. The sovereignty, which the Duke's father had valued at £70,000, was destined to realise three times that sum, or £220,000; and patronage, which had no pecuniary value, was purchased as if it were likely to be bought or sold. But, extravagant as the bargain was, the Crown did not lose by it. justly or unjustly, it continued to pay the surplus revenues of the island into the Consolidated Fund, and from this source it derived an adequate return for the moneys which it had invested in purchasing its sovereignty. The extension of mining increased the revenue which it derived from its manorial rights; and the Crown thenceforward derived many thousands a year from its insular property.
The purchase of the Duke's property and of his manorial rights marks the conclusion of the longest period of insular history. No dynasty had previously maintained so lengthened a connection with the island. It is difficult to fix any exact dates for its Welsh sovereigns. The two lines of its Norse rulers had occupied its throne for more than three centuries; a hundred and forty years covered the period in which England and Scotland had contended in it for the mastery; but more than four centuries had passed from the first grant of the Island to the House of Stanley to the final departure of the fourth Duke of Athole. In the centuries which had intervened both Stanleys and Atholes had left their mark on Manx history; and the Stanley who restrained the power of the Church in the fifteenth century, the Stanley who supported the cause of monarchy in the seventeenth century, the Stanley who consented to the Act of Settlement in the eighteenth century, were men whose memory deserves to be preserved. Yet, on the whole, they had done little to develop the resources of the Island, which they had made only their occasional home; they had failed to identify themselves with the fortunes of its people or to sympathise with their lot. From first to last they had been great feudal proprietors rather than wise sovereigns, and they had displayed the faults of a landlord rather than the virtues of a ruler. If this verdict be true of the Stanleys, it is still more true of the Atholes who succeeded them. If they are not deserving of the reproach, which still clings to their memory in the Island, they cannot be commended for any great action, or, with the exception of the legislation of 1737, for any wise policy. And perhaps history can find no better epitaph for the last of them than the language which Carlyle applies to Calonne:
" Worse men there have been, and better; but to thee also was allotted a task of raising the wind and the winds and thou hast done it."
1 Train, vol. ii. p. 109,
2 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 55.
3 Ibid., p. 70. Old and decrepit persons had a right to retain the service of one of their own children; and the choice child, as he was caned, could not be allotted to a farmer by a jury. Ibid., p. Ian.
4 Ibid., p. '~3. In justice to Tynwald, it is fair to remind the reader of the analogous legislation in England. The " Statute of Labourers," passed in the reign of Elizabeth, prescribed the hours of labour, forbade the movements of the working classes, and directed the justices to fix the rate of wages.
1 Statutes, Isle of Man, p. 132. 3 Ibid., p. 5.
3 Ibid,, p. Io7. ~ Ibid., p, 192.
1 In 1737 the master of a vessel taking any person whatsoever " off this Isle" without the Governor's license was made liable to a penalty of Pro. The Governor's pass" as required throughout the first third of the present century, and, as a matter of fact, the Act of 1737 still remains unrepealed, 'fine form of the pass is given in Feltham's Tour, p, 323.
3 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i, p. 191,
I Train, vol. i. p. rlo. The Acts of 1747, 1753, and 1763 are not printed in the Statute Book. The Act of 1747 is, however, referred to in the Act of 1777
2 Statutes, Isle of Man, voh i. p. 305, 3 Ann. Reg., 1765, p. 96.
Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i, p. 216. Train, vol. i. p. 239.
I Woods, Isle of Man, p. 298. Woods refers to the case of a gentleman resident in Douglas, who had been condemned to pay £20,000 damages in an action for crim. con. Woods adds, " His credit here stands very high; and I heard the Chief Deemster say in open court that he should consider his security for the payment of a debt equal to a bank-note
' Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xvii p. 120.
Train, vol i. p. 253.
1 Feltham, p. 120,
2 I.ocliha1's Scott, p. 159.