[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]

CHAPTER XIV.

RECENT HISTORY

 

Or recent history the most conspicuous incidents have been the establishment of the House of Keys on an elective basis, in lieu of the process of selfelection which came into vogue in the confusion at the Commonwealth; and a financial adjustment with the Imperial Treasury, by which the island, for an annual payment of 10,000, has control of its surplus revenues.

Thus, after a lapse of four centuries and a half, a certain semblance of constitutional government has been restored to us, and the Stanley-Athole regime in many ways obliterated. And at a time when in England the House of Commons, as the elective chamber, is claiming sole control of finance, we have in the House of Keys an elective chamber that has not even attained the power of financial initiation. In our so-called ' land of Home Rule' the man who pays the piper does not call the tune. Yet in 1874, when Governor Loch was disposed to treat that most ancient symbol of our freedom, the Open-Air Parliament, as a mere idle ceremony that had long since outlived its day, he received a lesson under circumstances of which any Manxman has a right to feel proud.

His Excellency wished to push through a measure taxing fishing-boats for harbour accommodation. The accommodation was not provided, and the fishermen at Peel had a shrewd suspicion that the money so collected would disappear in promenades and other showy schemes in Douglas.

In a body they rose, and from widely-separated points-Peel, Ramsey, Port St. Mary, Port Erin -they marched to Tynwald Hill on the day (Midsummer Day by the old calendar) on which, by immemorial usage, they were empowered to make known their dissent to an offensive measure.

Governor Loch foresaw the danger in which he might be placed, and assembled on the spot the infantry from Castletown. The men at his command were armed with ball-cartridge. Law and order were to be maintained by establishing terror. Never was the proud institution of free men so degraded. The soldiers, however, in mere numbers made a sorry show in the face of a body of fishermen numbering 2,400, empty-handed it is true, but every one a man fresh from the sea, strong, brave, and resolute.

The strategy of the undisciplined force was admirable. Three men were told off to every rifle, and 500 men barred the return route of the Governor if the contest were pushed to the extreme.

Not till the men had assembled at the ancient mound did the Governor realize that, arrived there, he was no better than a rat in a trap if he ignored the inalienable right of the Manxmen to be heard in Open Parliament and to refuse their sanction.

His Excellency wisely and promptly grasped the situation, and ignored the foolish counsel by which he had been hitherto misguided. The harbour dues were dropped and a deputation was sent by him to negotiate the peace. Thereafter Governor Loch was the friend rather than the foe of the fishermen. Who, in the face of such an incident, can say Tynwald is obsolete or that our institutions are vain ceremonies ?

The loss to the people of the mountain lands for grazing, quarrying, and cutting turf, belongs to the early sixties, before the people were invested with any constitutional power of resisting the armed force brought up to effect their submission. It is a sorry story.


 

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