[taken from Chapter 3 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]
popularly known as " Illiam Dhone," (Brown William), was a younger son of Deemster Ewan Christian, of Milntown. Nothing is known of his early life. He was steward of the Abbey Lands in 1640, and a member of the House of Keys in 1643. In the same year his father presented him with the property of Ronaldsway which he agreed to hold from the Earl of Derby on a lease for three lives, instead of by the old straw tenure. He and his family were, consequently, received into favour, and he was appointed to the then important office of "receiver." CHRISTIAN must have thoroughly gained the earl's confidence, since, when he (Lord Derby) left the island in August, 1651, to join the Royalist forces, he not only put him in command of the insular militia, but committed his countess, the famous Charlotte de la Tremoille, to his care. It is exceedingly difficult to ascertain precisely what part CHRISTIAN played in the subsequent transactions, since the only statements that remain to us are conflicting and obscure. We know that the countess, on hearing that her husband was a prisoner, made proposals to Parliament for the surrender of the island, in the hope of saving his life. We know also that CHRISTIAN, and some of the most influential Manxmen, suspected she had done so, and that they excited their countrymen against her by declaring that the countess intended to save herself by sacrificing them. This being so, we are not surprised to learn that, on the night on which the bearer of these proposals sailed, the insular militia, under CHRISTIAN'S command, rose, and attempted to seize all the forts. They succeeded as regards the smaller forts, but failed to take Rushen and Peel. Burton, Governor Musgrave's biographer, remarks that they plundered the earl's property, and ill-used all the English who fell into their hands. This statement, however, is uncorroborated. Musgrave demanded an explanation of the rising from CHRISTIAN, who replied that it was to procure the redress of certain grievances; and he added that the countess had sold the country into the hands of the Parliament. These grievances we know to have been connected with the 7th earl's action in depriving the people of their old system of land tenure, and there were also complaints of the free quarterage of troops upon them. It is said that an agreement was then entered into between CHRISTIAN and the governor to defend the island until satisfactory terms could be obtained, but, as both parties were negotiating with the Parliament, whose troops were now mustering for its capture, the agreement was, in reality, a mere pretence for the sake of gaining time. These troops arrived on the 20th of October, but, being delayed by storms, they did not land till the 28th. They had been assured by CHRISTIAN that they would not be opposed by the soldiers under his command.
On the 3rd of November, the countess, finding that she could not rely upon the fidelity of her soldiers, surrendered the castles of Rushen and Peel, and soon afterwards she left the island. In December, CHRISTIAN, and his brother John, the deemster, who were described in the Journals of the House of Commons as 'two of the ablest and honestest gentlemen in the island " were summoned to London to be consulted about the Manx laws and other matters. He was continued in his office of receiver under Lord Fairfax, and, between 1656 and 1658, he also held the office of governor. In the latter year, James Chaloner, who had then been appointed governor, ordered his arrest on the charge of having misappropriated the revenues of the sequestrated bishopric, which Fairfax intended to be used for the support of the Grammar Schools, and for the augmentation of the stipends of the poorer clergy. This accusation does not seem to have been proved, and CHRISTIAN, through his son George, produced statements showing the substantial accuracy of his accounts. And yet it is curious that he should have fled to England without attempting to defend himself personally. It is not known where he spent the interval between 1658 and 1660. In the latter year, he " went to London with many others to have a sight of the king". His visit, however, was an unfortunate one, for he was arrested for a debt of £20,000, and put into the Fleet prison, where he was kept for nearly a year, till he was able to find bail. Some months after his release, being assured that the "Act of Indemnity " secured him against all the legal consequences of his political actions, he rashly returned to the Isle of Man. His advisers forgot that his offences were not against the Crown, but against the Lord of Man, who, in September, 1662, issued a mandate to his officers to proceed against him " for all his illegal actions and rebellions " in 1651, or before that year. He was thereupon imprisoned in Castle Rushen. At the trial which followed, CHRISTIAN refused to plead. This was a fatal mistake, because he thereby subjected himself to the same judgment as if he had pleaded guilty, or had been found guilty by a jury. In consequence of this, no evidence was taken on his behalf, so that he was virtually condemned without trial. His sentence was to be "hanged, drawn, and quartered," but this was commuted by an order of the deputy-governor that he be " shot to death." This was accordingly carried out on January the 2nd, 1663. An entry relating to his execution, in the Parish Register of Malew, states that " he died most penitently and most curragiously, made a good end, prayed earnestly, made an excellent speech, and next day was buried in the chancel of Kirk Malew."
According to his " dying speech," which whether authentic or not, is eloquent and dignified in style, and contains nothing inconsistent with any known facts, he protested against the charge of treason brought against him by " a prompted and threatened jury, a pretended Court of Justice, of which the greater part were by no means qualified."* He appealed to those present to bear witness how unjust the accusation against him was, and he declared that " the rising of the people," in which ho had engaged, " did not at all, or in The least degree, intend the prejudice or ruin of the Derby family." During CHRISTIAN's imprisonment in Castle Rushen, he had addressed a petition to the king and Council, pleading that the proceedings taken against him by the Earl of Derby were a violation of the Act of Indemnity, and praying that his case might be heard before them, but it did not reach London till a week after his execution. In ignorance of this event, orders were sent to Lord Derby to produce his prisoner. ILLIAM DHONE's sons, George and Ewan, presented petitions for redress, and, after some delay, the earl, the deemsters, and three other members of "the pretended Court of Justice," were brought before the King in Council, who decided that "the Act of General Pardon and Indemnity did and ought to be understood to extend to the Isle of Man."+
The Privy Council furthermore ordered that " intire restitution " be made of CHRISTIAN's estate, and that " to the end the guilt of that blood, which hath been unjustly spilt, may in some sort be expiated" the deemsters "who decreed this violent death" should remain prisoners in the King's Bench " to receive condign punishment," while the others who had been summoned were discharged on giving security to appear when called upon.
WILLIAM CHRISTIAN has been variously represented as a perjured traitor, or as the patriotic victim of a judicial murder, according to the sympathies of the writer. It is so difficult to judge impartially of actions committed during a period of revolution, and of which, moreover, we have but an imperfect record, that the present writer has confined himself to laying the facts, as far as he could ascertain them, before his readers. Whatever his faults, CHRISTIAN undoubtedly suffered for the part he took in endeavouring to protect his countrymen's laws and liberties. It is this circumstance that has enlisted their sympathies in his favour, while the plaintive ballad Baase Illiam Dhone, " Brown William's Death," has invested his memory with the halo of a martyr.
He is as is well known, one of the characters in Sir Walter Scott's " Peveril of the Peak," where the account given of him is more remarkable for picturesqueness than historical accuracy. Sir Walter's Information about him was mainly obtained from his younger brother, Thomas Scott, who resided in the island for some years at the beginning of the century.*
* Dying Speech, Manx
Soc., Vol. XXVI., p 38
* Dying Speech, Manx Soc., Vol. XXVI., P. 40. t
+ Ibid. pp. 54-9
* See note p. 63.
(Partly from the article in the Dictionary of National Biography, to which the writer contributed information.)
Mrs Hicks Beach (descendant of family) in 'Yesterdays behind the door' Liverpool: University Press 1956 states that William was third surviving and youngest legitimate son of Deemster Ewan Christian who was married off to Elizabeth daughter of George Cockshutt whose family owned property at Great Harwood near Kirkham Lancashire and who came with a £600 dowry. Christian properties at Freckleton and Wharton (which had embryo coalpits) were settled on the couple and the dowry used to buy a house at Nether Sparth where the couple settled and had a child there before William placed his English properties in the hands of trustees and returned to the Island in 1637. Ewan settled him at Ronaldsway (well away from Milntown) in a property that had been acquired by dubious legal means.
In Lib Sccacc 1656-1659 (Manx Museum Microfilm RB445) are a series of documents related to William Christian - A.W.Moore makes no mention of them yet it is reasonable to suppose that he saw them as he quotes a note about Sir Hugh Cannell that is but a page removed from them.
The first (#71 of 1658) is a petition from William Christian to James Chaloner, recently appointed Governor, compaining that he has been 'scandalously and astoningishly' accused of 'gotten an illegittimat daugher of his owne wth child" and requesting that a jury of the 24 Keys may pass in trial. Then (pp 73-77) is a summary of evidence taken at a trial on Midsummer's day last (24 June - Tynwald day) at St Johns, dated 1 July 1658. Then follows a petition to the James Chaloner deputy of Lord Thomas Fairfax from William Craine in which he accuses William Christian of incest and attempting to procure an abortion and complaining that he William Craine has been slandered by Christian and friends in high places. In an attached note Chaloner responds to this by requesting that Deemsters and Keys investigate (though this note may be displaced as dated December 1658), then follows a report to Chaloner of the proceedings of 24 June - he is obviously unsatisfied with the procedures followed and sends a series of questions to the Officers and Keys asking for clarification about the Law in cases where the officials are challenged. As William Christian unexpectedly left the Island shortly afterwards (according to Hicks Beach he returned to Nether Sparth but continued to visit the Island) it may be that this accusation was the spur for Chaloner to dismiss him though the stated grounds are discrepancies in his accounts. Christian left the Island without permission and Chaloner arrested his brother for aiding his escape.
Petition of William Christian - undated
To the Honorable James Chaloner Esqr And
Governor of this Isle
The Humble Petition of Will Christian
Submissively showeth that yor petitioner beinge most scanda=
lously and astonishly aspercuged to have gotten an illegitt-=
mat daughter of his owne wth child wth many other
opprobations & disgraceful reveilinges from one William
Crayne sometime servant to yr petitioner as he will
make to apeare
Hee therefore humbly prayeth that a
select jury of the 24 keyes may passe
in trial upon the faire slander &
that the saide Crayne may be required
very speedily to bringe in his evidences
for the tryall thereof that yor petitinr
may not live under soe unsult or a =
sation to the vexation of his spirit
and the incumbrance of his pursuinge
of his dutie & place accordinge to the
trust reposed in him, and likewise
further craveth that the saide jurie
may be ordered to determine the saide
business spedily accordinge to the best
evidences produced before them and
that in the [xxx]terime he may stand bound
to answer the accon of a [xxx]ust putt
uppon him and he as in dutie bound
will ever pray
Then follows 5 pages of depositions taken at St Johns - dated 1 July 1658
Petition of William Crayne - undated
To the Honable James Chaloner Esqr Governor of this Isle
The humble appeale of William Cranne of St Peeter in the Holme Yeoman
Whereas the law of this Isle, was the Birthrights and inheritance of every of the people of the same, yt the said William Cranne, being native thereof and finding myselfe debarred, denied and deprived of those Amenities, privelliges and Freedoms wch undoubtedly is Proper and belonging unto me uppon that Accompt in a safe cause or Action comenced against mee by Mr William Christian Receiver genl of this Isle under cover or pretence that the said applicant should have slandered him, by reportinge that hee had gotten an illegitimate daughter wth childe and that he endeavoured to destroy the fruite of her body by giving her certaine waters or potions to drink; In the adjudging  & tryinge of wch cause against yor poore Applicant, there hath beene preactised  yed by the Deemsters or judges and other the officers together wth most or all of the jurors in this cause impaniled very injurious judgment & fallse informations, illegal proceedings and  judgments manifestly tending as well to the subverting of common justice ; as also to the utter deformation of yor poore applicant; Wherefore from the said high exhorbitant and most illegall proceedings sentances and judgments  exhorbitantly wrongfully & unlawfully had judged & declared against mee, by the said Deemsters, officers & Servants I appeal to yor hor for justice, and demand the same as my absolut right; claiming as well the recording of this my appeal; As the  inexplaine thereof by and before yor hor; and after humbly claiming som convenient tyme and plaic to make  as well the groundes and reasons of this my  shall soe from and at yor handes to have administered indifferent and equall justiceand redress in this behalf and I shall ever pray &c
The next was Chaloner's response
At Peeltowne the xiiij th of December 1658 [out of sequence ? or wrong year ?]
The within appeale beinge this day prferr'd I have accepted thereof, and accordinge as is desired have given order for the Receiving of the same And for covenient tyme & place for the hearinge of the charge layd & mentio- ned in the said appeale. I shall take into my consideration James Chaloner
Then follows a report of the hearing
At St John's chappel first of July 1658
Whereas upon midsomr day last past William Christian Receiver general of this isle did [profon] a petition unto the honnable governor of this Isle touchinge ye slander of a high nature charged to be spoken & divulged by Wm Crayne of Peele town against him  said [Receiver ?] , to wit that the said Receiver had gott a child by an ille= gittimate daughter ... TBC
In Lib Vast for 1659 is a petition by John Christian that William Chistian not be appointed guardian of the late David Christian of Ballakiley 's underage daugher as requested in David Christian's will as he, John Christian, doubts if it will be to the benefit of the child.
see also ManxNoteBook