[taken from Chapter 7 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]

MARK WILKS (b. 1759, d. 1831),

a son of the Rev. James Wilks (see p. 26 [and Old Manx Families]) and Margaret Woods[sic - 3rd child by Jame's 2nd wife Elizabeth Christian], was born at Kirk Michael Vicarage, being named Mark after his godfather, Bishop Hildesley. His father endeavoured, in 1771, to get him on the Charter-House foundation, but he did not succeed in doing so. Being at one time intended for the ministry, he received a classical education, and, in consequence, went to India at a later age than was usual. He obtained a cadetship in 1781, and in 1782 he received a commission in the Madras army. In 1788, he was appointed fort adjutant at Fort St. George, and in 1789 he was promoted lieutenant. From 1790 to 1792 he acted as brigade-major and aide-de-camp to Colonel James Stuart. In 1793, he was assistant adjutant-general. From 1795 to 1799, he was on furlough from bad health, and yet, in 1797, he joined the Royal Manx Fencibles, who were then serving in Ireland, as lieutenant. He had received his captaincy in his absence from India, in 1798, and, on his return there, he served successively as military secretary and private secretary to the governor, Lord Clive. He was next appointed town-major of Fort St. George. From 1803 to 1808, he was political Resident at the Court of Mysore, attaining the rank of major in 1804, and that of lieutenant-colonel in 1808.+1 He was invalided home in that year, being in the island for a short time between 1809 and 1811, when he was elected a member of the House of Keys. After another year in India he resigned the office he held there, and, coming home, he, early in 1813, married (as his second wife) Dorothy Taubman, daughter of the Speaker of the House of Keys, and was at once re-elected a member of that body. He had bought the estate of Kirby, and had just commenced building a house on it, when, in the spring of 1813, he was offered the post of Governor of St. Helena by the East India Company, which he accepted, but for three years only. He took up his duties there in June, and wrote from thence, on the 12th of August, resigning his membership of the Keys. " He had thus been out some two years when Napoleon landed, and, during that time, had succeeded in winning the devotion of the islanders by his improvements in agriculture and by inducing the Company to ameliorate the system of land tenure."+2 Though he received Napoleon on his arrival, Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who had brought him from England, remained in charge of him till Sir Hudson Lowe came, in April 1816. Napoleon evidently both liked and respected WILKS. Some notes of the interesting conversations they had together, which were taken by the latter, have been preserved by his lineal representative, the late Sir Mark Wilks Collet, Bart., and are now, for the first time, published.+3 These notes exhibit his strong interest in agriculture, science, and history, also " his power of interesting the bored Emperor."+4 It is unfortunate that he, instead of the rough and tactless Sir Hudson Lowe, was not put in charge of him. This, at least, was evidently the Duke of Wellington's opinion since according to Lord Stanhope, he said " that he thought the Government had been mistaken in removing the old East India Company governor, COL WILKS." And he continued, " He was a very intelligent, well-read man, and knew everything that had been passing in Europe, and Napoleon had become really attached to him." After he was gone, Napoleon (as the Duke mentions) said more than once, " Pourquoi n ont-ils pas laisse ce vieux gouverneur ? Avec lui je me serais arrange, nous maurions pas eu de querelles "'+5 (Why have they not left that old governor? I could have got on with him. We should not have had quarrels.)

It was said that St. Helena had never " been under the government of a man so judicious, so mild and affable, or so much beloved ;" also that " his kindness, firmness, and philanthropy caused his departure to be regretted by all ranks in that island, where he made so many wise and lasting improvements:+6 Soon after his arrival in England, he came to the Isle of Man and settled at Kirby with hits wife. On the 20th of August, 1816 he was re-elected a member of the House of Keys, and in 1818 he retired from the East India Company's service. In 1823, after the death of his father-in-law, he became Speaker of the House of Keys. On first taking the chair, he expressed the opinion that " some theoretical defects might be attributed to the mode of election to seats," but he said that he believed he truly interpreted the sense of every member " in declaring our deliberate intention to cure these defects, if such they be, by our own conduct — by determining to legislate on no subject that has not previously been submitted to the country; by encouraging the free Communication of their views — by opening the doors of this house to their petitions and representations presented through the medium of a member."! He had a wonderful knowledge of oriental languages, and, on being asked how he had been able to acquire them so easily, he replied that "he could not account for it otherwise than on the ground of his being the son of a Manx clergyman, who had been careful to give him a correct and extensive acquaintance with his mother tongue. +7 His knowledge of Oriental literature was no less remarkable, and he has made us partakers of this knowledge by his writings. The first of these, a History of the Mahratta War,+8 has been described as " a work of great learning and merit."+9 The second was published under the title of "Historical Sketches of the South of India, in an attempt to trace the History of Mysore." Sir James Mackintosh, then the greatest authority on India, pronounced it to be " the first example of a book on Indian history founded on a critical examination of testimony and probability, and from which the absurdities of fable and etymology are banished."* The third was an essay, printed in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society, of which Colonel WILKS was vice-president, which has been described as " a masterly analysis and statement of the philosophical work of Nasir-ed-Din, entitled Akh lac-a-nas-re, a metaphysical treatise of great difficulty.'+ According to his obituary notice in the Gentleman's Magazine, MARK WILKS was a fellow of the Royal Society. In personal appearance he was, in 1815, described as " a tall, handsome, venerable-looking man, with white curling locks and a courtierlike manner. +10 In character he was straightforward, modest, and kindly.

(Information partly from The Dictionary of National Biography, and partly from the Rev. S. N.Harrison, M.A., besides the other sources indicated.)

+1 He received the brevet rank of colonel in 1814,t
+2 " Colonel Wilks and Napoleon, " by Julian S. Corbett, in the Monthly Review (January, 1901), p. 65.
+3 Notes of conversations with the Duke of Wellington, 1831-1851, by Philip Henry 5th Earl Stanhope. London 1888.
+4 Article in Blackwood's Magazine, January 1834
+5 Manks Advertiser
+6 This was perused by Napoleon, at St. Helena and was highly praised by him — Blackwood's Magazine, January 1834.
+7 The Monthly Review (January, 190l), p. 65.
+8 This book was in 3 vols. quarto, the first being published in 1810, and the two last in 1817.
+9 Manks Advertiser.
+10 Blackwood's Magazine, January, 1834.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000