[taken from Chapter 5 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]
was born in Castletown, and went, when a child, with his parents, to Liverpool, where they apprenticed him to a stationer and bookbinder. When he arrived at early manhood, an excellent opportunity arose of buying this bookbinding business, but, since he had not saved any money, he, to his great mortification, could not do so. On telling this to his wife, he was amazed to find that she had saved, without his knowledge, quite enough money to buy the business. He then bought it, and, though his habits were fitful, he never failed to prosper, being both skilful and hardworking. Meanwhile, he developed a considerable literary talent, which was exhibited in such writings as "Rambles in the Lake District," contributed under the pseudonym of " Harry Hardnot ;" also in some articles called " Liverpool Life." These last made a great sensation, and led to some reforms. Eventually, with some three or four others, he founded the " Porcupine," and, while his colleagues attended to the amusing side of the paper, he developed it into a unique social power which he used with tremendous effect in revolutionising condition of Liverpool. " I never," writes Sir Edward Russell, referring to him and a few friends of his, knew a small combination of men who did such great things." Shimmin was famed for humorous mystifications. One of his oddest traits was that he never objected to make himself out as bad as he could possibly be; and he enjoyed the impression made upon others by this, as much as anyone else would have enjoyed producing a good impression. Another trait was a marvellous power of telling incredible tales, and in this he had extraordinary luck, for it frequently happened, when he had told something which everyone assumed to be a fiction, that something transpired to show that that particular statement was literally true. Then he turned on the assembled company and made the most of his triumph, his inference from it being that he obviously ought never to be doubted again, whatever he said. A humorous, but scarcely a witty, man, he had a keen enjoyment of wit in others. His moral courage was very great. As a proof of this we may mention his exposure of the ship-scuttling practices of a large firm of shipowners. To him, more than to any other single person, may be attributed the sanitary reforms in Liverpool, and the improvement in the treatment of the neglected children in that city. He constantly urged the necessity of supporting the Children's Infirmary and the Seamen's Orphan Institution in the pages of the " Porcupine ;" and in the inauguration and management of this last great work he took a very earnest and conspicuous share.
(Information from Sir Edward Russell and Captain Edward Stubbs, R.N.. Secretary of the Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institution).
* An excellent instance of this is given by Sir Edward Russell in his interesting book " that Reminds Me"
[FPC A couple of examples of his style may be seen in his account of Prince Arthur's visit and criticism of the IoMSPCo]
The following is taken from Porcupine 18 Jan 1879 pp664/5
In Memory of HUGH SHIMMIN, WHO DIED ON HOSPITAL SUNDAY, 12TH JANUARY, 1879, AGED 59 YEARS, AND WAS INTERRED ON WEDNESDAY, 15TH JANUARY, IN ANFIELD CEMETERY.
Rest! Peace to thee. Labour is finished and o'er.
Life's eager day with it's toiling and trouble has ended.
Still soothing night, ere the dawn that will last evermore,
Calm a the shot summer-e'en has descended.
Sleep gently, and lightly, brave heart, thy duty is done.
Friends watch around thee. Heaven is wakeful and nigh,
Shall we not all, dead and living, arise with the Ban?
Angels will wake thee. Calmly and peacefully lie.
Rest! For we, too, shall be resting beside thee ere long.
Slumber will sweeten the joy and the brightness of morn.
Farewell for the night, trusty friend. Throng on throng
Of sleepers are round no. Pace! We shall meet thee at dawn.
OUR EDITOR. MR. HUGH SHIMMIN, who has been the editor, and a proprietor, of this paper since its commencement in 1860 died suddenly on Sunday morning last, and one of his old friends and colleagues now takes up his pen, and for the moment sits in his place, to pay a tribute to his memory and to his worth as a journalist and a citizen. There is no immediate necessity to expand these remarks into a memoir, for already in the local press notices have appeared which have embraced the chief points of Mr. Shimmin's career, and which have recognized heartily and generously the great value of his public services to this community. It is very pleasant to find those who have been his competitors in the literary field, and who have frequently and warmly differed from him in opinion, thus gallantly and chivalrously uniting to testify to his merit, ability, and patriotic spirit.
It is difficult all at once to realize the loss of a man who, like Mr. Shimmin,was, until the other day, taking his accustomed and active part in public affairs, both as a philanthropist and a journalist; and the only consolation that one feels in regard to his very sudden removal is, that he was spared the lingering and torturing illness which he had began to anticipate from another cause.
Mr. Shimmin was a man after a unique type, and in many respects he resembled William Cobbett, of the " Political Register," and Thomas Livesey, the social reformer of Preston. He' differed from both in some particulars, hut he was strongly like both in the independence of his personal character, in his fearless denunciation of what he believed to be rotten and wrong in social and political affairs, and in his ardent promotion of the truest interests of working. men. Beginning life himself with no advantages of birth, fortune, or education, and even handicapped hy the necessity, when little more than a lad, of maintaining his younger brothers and sisters, he encountered what seemed to be hard and almost impossible engagements with a brave, cheerful, and manly spirit, and, availing himself of what facilities were then afforded by the local Mechanics' Institute, he became as diligent a student of books as he afterwards became of men. In early manhood he had the good fortune to marry a woman of simple, earnest, and energetic character, and his home-life throughout, though he never had any family, was a supremely happy one. His was one of the cases where marriage does not cease to he a joy when youth has passed hut where tender friendship and mutual esteem and confidence grow with the growth of years, and where the intensity of affection is only ascertained when the rude and resistless shock of death breaks the onion. The incident cited by Dr. Nevins, at the meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society on Monday evening, hears strongly upon this point; and it is only one of many illustrations which Mr. Shimmin himself was wont to cite with gratitude and zest of that prudence and forethought which were so helpful to him throughout his career. The writer has touched this phase of character, not with any desire to intrude upon the sacred enclosure of the domestic hearth, hut simply, and in justice, to show how largely the happiness and usefulness of some men's lives is dependent upon women, and how important it is for Englishwomen, notwithstanding the temptations and vagaries of modern times in an opposite direction, to recognize the fact that their sphere of duty is at home, and their empire over the hearts of men.
Though Mr. Shimmin's literary work began long before the establishment of the PORCUPINE, it was through its pages that he was able thoroughly and systematically to discuss the various themes which engrossed his mind and his heart. The PORCUPINE developed a new feature in local journalism. The "free-lance" style of criticism on all subjects which was from the first adopted, and the miscellaneous range of its writing, enlisted contributors of all ranks and conditions, and of all opinions. Perhaps no journal in this or any other town has had in its time so many contributors. There is scarcely a public man of any mark in the town who has not in his turn been on the list; and Mr. Shimmin used often laughingly to say, that if he were to publish a schedule of his contributors, he would very soon set the whole town by the ears. But no confidences of this kind, whatever differences of opinion might afterwards arise, did he ever abuse.
Few men, perhaps, have been better fitted for the editorial work of journalism than Mr. Shimmin. His versatility was marvellous, and he always kept pace with the best of his contributors, whether the subject was music and the drama, local politics, or the fine arts. In his treatment of local subjects he had some advantages which were not always enjoyed by big contemporaries, for no man in Liverpool was more behind the scenes of official and social life than he was, and no one had so happy a faculty of always knowing where to go for the best information upon any subject on which his attention might for the moment he engaged.
Like Livesey, but less like Cobbett, Mr. Shimmin's power and influence as a journalist were concentrated more upon local than upon national affairs; though, in the discussion of such questions as the mercantile marine, the sanitary laws, and commercial morality, he took the most comprehensive grip of the subject; and where he gripped he held. Though not a scientific man, in the ordinary sense of the term, Mr. Shimmin, from personal observation, from reading, and from intercourse with advanced students of sanitary science, had accumulated a vast store of knowledge on that and kindred subject, and, through the pages of the PORCUPINE, by his trenchant arguments and powerful illustrations he was able to give an immense impetus to sanitary reform in Liverpool. In dealing with the degradation and crime traceable to the drink traffic he was most uncompromising and severe, and no personal predilections or blandishments could induce him to smother his conscience or modify his voice.
It had been said of Cobbett that his person. were forgotten in his power, his inconsistencies in his honesty, his vehement impulses in his commonsense, and that his thousand articles were remembered only for his fearless daring. So it will be now with Hugh Shimmin. When he lived he had enemies by the score as no man can help having who speaks his mind boldly and bluntly, more from the promptings of conscience than of masters, and heedless he treads on the corns of friends or foes. But, now that he has gone, men of all parties recognize the truth and justice which were enshrined in the tender and eloquent allusion which Mr Samuelson made on Wednesday to the loss which the Council had sustained by the removal of one who, though his voice had never been heard in their deliberations, had so frequently stimulated them to action by his pen. The editor of the Post, than whom none knows better or more cordially admit how powerful a mentor of public action and opinion Mr. Shimmin grew to be compares his influence locally to that of Joseph Hume in Parliament, and the comparison is certainly most apt and forcible. No journalist that the writer remembers ever exhibited a keener or more warlike enthusiasm in fighting the battle of what he believed to be right against wrong; but those who knew Mr. Shimmin on his combative side were perhaps hardly aware that this athlete of the press, after all, took a more real delight in portraying the wonders and beauties of natural scenery, and particularly tharof the Lake district of England. He had a Painter's eye for the minute as well as the broad aspects of landscape, and, though not a poet in the technical sense, he had the true poetic faulty of translating nature into glowing words. The readers of the PORCUPINE will, no doubt, recall one of his recent descriptions of this kind when, last year, he made a hurried tour as far as the Shap Wells Spa, and afterwards produced a lucid and charming sketch which, though written under the pressure of weariness and illness, was as bright and picturesque as though had been penned by a man full of leisure and full of health. But, though not a poet, Mr. Shimmin was a facile and clever rhymster, and his fund of genuine humour and his intimate knowledge of local men and local things gave marvellous pungency and force to the "Valentines" which have been wont to appear in the PORCUPINE, about the 14th of February in each year,
Combined, with its sterner qualities, this big, bluff, manly heart had the tenderest sympathy with suffering and distress in the thousand forms in which they are presented in a town like Liverpool. The warmth and genuineness of his philantropy were shown in many practical ways; in his unwavering interest for the:orphans of seamen, in his constant remembrance of the Children's Infirmary and Blue Coat School, and in his care for all those cases of accidental trouble and misfortune where a quick ear and a keen sensibility are required to give the necessary impulse and direction to public benevolence. Though of late years he had often become the companion of men of local influence and distinction, he never forgot the poor. It may be said of him, perhaps more than of almost any other man in Liverpool, that he was the poor man's friend ; and no less was he their friend, because he never pandered to their vices, nor petted, nor cajoled them to gain at their expense either popularity or profit. Only those who were in daily and intimate association with him are aware of the infinite pains which he took in trying to do good and he of practical service to others. His office was constantly besieged by persons who had grievances to relate, and all who had definite cause of complaint, and who were not pure and simple " bores," found in him a genuine and active friend. He did not content himself with writing notes on their behalf, or passing them on to other sympathetic friends, and so escape personal worry aud responsibility; hut he would investigate each case, and if it were one where his influence with magistrates, or coroner, or with merchants, or any other class of men, would be effective for good, even though the applicant might he quite unknown to him before, he would undertake the case with a zeal and fervour which most men only display in the interests of their dearest friends. Though by no means a rich man, he had, by reason of his own frugal habits, always something to spare for such cases of real neccescity as were best relieved by money ; but his practice was, whenever it was possible, to put both men and women in a position where they could help themselves.
Though a man of such large calibre in other respects, Mr. Shimmin had some minor accomplishments which might have proved a dangerous gift in a man of less solidity and firmness of character. He was a capital mimic, and had a memory of each flexibility and compass that he could take impromptu an effective part in any play or drama which he had heard or read; he could tell stories in almost any dialect with rare point and humour; while few could equal him in singing a good rollicking song. But it was only at rare intervals that he was drawn out in this way; for, after all, his chief delight, when his day's work was done, was in the quiet repose and simplicity of his own home.
In his early life Mr. Shimmin was a member of the Wesleyan body, and at one time it was proposed that he should he sent out as a missionary to Jamaica. He did actually receive some theological training with this view, and to this course of experience and reading he was no doubt indebted for that large acquaintance with the scriptures which, though rarely brought to bear upon his editorial labours in after years, when so applied, always gave great strength to his illustrations. This peculiarity, however, came out more strongly in his private conversation. In later life Mr. Shimmin was a firm adherent of the Church of England and an admirer of its liturgies, but at all times he had the broadest charity towards those of widely-divergent theological belief ; and one of the excursions to which he looked forward every year with the greatest pleasure was the visit he was accustomed to pay to the Catholic college at Stonyhurst. Ostensibly this was a visit for business purposes, but it was also the occasion for the renewal of choice and intimate friendship with the fathers themselves.
The novel, or rather novelette, entitled " Harry Birkett" written by Mr. Shimmin many years ago did not make much noise in the world of literature, being printed and published in Liverpool ; but it was a characteristic book, and was in some respects understood to be an autobiography.
Though an ardent Liberal in politics, Mr. Shimmin did not always dance to the piping of the Liberal chiefs, and he often fell foul of Liberalism when it displayed, either through its leaders or its adherents, a tendency to snobbishness and arrogance, or manifested a willingness to subordinate great principles to the expedients and motives of party. But in this as in other matters, Tempus edax rerum; and if these were faults in some men's eyes, as time rolls on, and as a more just estimate of the value of character and conduct is formed, they will be lost sight of in the great advantage which the community gains by all-persistent effort to quicken the public conscience towards a higher morality both in Business and in politics.
The funeral service at Anfield, on Wednesday, was conducted by the Rev. Drummond Anderson, an old friend and associate in good works. The strangely representative gathering was in itself an index to character. Men of all ranks and conditions, professions, and politics, clustered round the grave, and the hearts of all were touched with equal sorrow. Nor were there absent on this solemn and interesting occasion "the fatherless and the widows," for whom in his lifetime Hugh Shimmin had such a tender care.
We are requested by Mrs. Shimmin to acknowledge, with the deepest gratitude and the warmest appreciation, the general sympathy and great kindness she has experienced on all hands in the hour of her bereavement. The generous expressions of esteem for the late Mr. Hugh Shimmin and sorrow at his death have been so numerous that it was impossible to acknowledge them individually at such a time Both publicly and in private, words of condolence have been most kindly and feelingly conveyed to her, combined with loving tributes of admiration and respect for the memory of the departed. To everyone who has thus endeavoured to assuage he bitterness of the time we beg, in the name of Mrs. Shimmin, to tender the most sincere and unfeigned thanks.