[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
THE first newspaper published in the island was the Manks Mercury and Briscoe's Douglas Advertiser, which Christopher Briscoe started on November 27, 1792, 'Price 2d. British'-the English shilling being equal to the fourteen Manx pennies then in circulation. The Briscoes also printed a collection of Manx hymns (1795).
A Manx printer whose name was destined to be known among navigating officers in the farthermost corners of the earth was George Jefferson, who on August 8, 1801, started the Manx Advertiser. In the same year a rival printer, Thomas Whittam, issued his Manks Almanack for 1802. In after-years this publication passed through various changes of fortune. For successive seasons the Almanac was issued respectively by the Phoenix Press, the office of the True Manxman, and the office of the Rising Sun. In 1825 it became the property of Jefferson. In 1833 J. Quiggin began his opposition Almanack and Tide-Table; but in 1851 this was merged into Jefferson's venture, and 'Jefferson's' it remains to-day, a tide-table authority to every captain in the merchant service.
The Rising Sun, or Mona's Herald, was first published on April 24, 1821. In December, 1824, the title was altered to the Manx Rising Sun. In April, 1826, another alteration was made. As the Manx Sun it continued its independent existence until October 27, 1906, when it was merged in the Isle of Man Weekly Times. The Mona's Herald dates from 1833, when it was ' Price 3d. British.'
The press in the Isle of Man enjoyed from 1834 two unique privileges: (1) exemption from stamp duty, and (2) free postage.
It would be impossible for me to record all the tiny sheets and broadsides that appeared in the guise of newspapers during the period following upon the Act of 1834. Oddfellows, Irish Nationalists, temperance advocates, religious enthusiasts, and other propagandists whose real aim was to influence, not our regeneration, but opinion in England, Ireland, or elsewhere, printed their newspapers in Douglas, and issued them to the public through the medium of the insular post. About the year 1845 there were probably not fewer than 300 printers in the town, a number totally out of proportion to the needs of a small watering-place, or of the island as a whole.
Mr. James Brown came from the office of the Liverpool Mercury, where he had been a compositor, and joined the merry party of printers with two such remarkable privileges at their command. Ultimately, zeal for the public purse and internal jealousy led Sir John Bowring, Mr. Robert Faragher (the editor of the Mona's Herald), and others, to make representations to the Imperial authorities. Free postage became in 1848 by Imperial enactment a thing of the past so far as Great Britain and Ireland were concerned. But the unique privilege was retained for some years by those newspaper proprietors or societies whose field of operation was either a British colony or certain Continental countries-France, Belgium, or Spain.
The Manx Lion, a four-page demy folio, was printed by Mr. Brown on a wooden hand-press. The lively Lion came to an end when the advertisement manager decamped with the bulk of the funds. Brown's Advertising Circular soon began its career, enlisting the aid of Mr. Livesey, the great temperance advocate, subsequently editor of the Preston Guardian, and other residents gifted with the pen.
On May 4, 1861, the Circular was merged into a new publication, called the Isle of Man Weekly Times. The new Times had no relation to the Times started by Messrs. Sherreff and Russell in 1846, notwithstanding the statement of authorities to the contrary. The earlier Times had ceased publication one or more years when Mr. Brown appropriated the title.
The new paper went through some exciting experiences in the early part of its career, and often only narrowly escaped the attentions of the coroner, who on our island is the counterpart of the Sheriffs officer in England, fulfilling duties that present a curious and interesting relic of a once powerful official. But within three years a golden opportunity arrived.
In 1864 the Town Commissioners of Douglas, elected on a popular franchise, asked for powers to effect certain improvements. The self-elected Keys were very contemptuous, and they even forgot their manners and became abusive. They said the Commissioners were 'mere tradesmen' who were ' usurping' the government of the town, that they ought to be called ' Governors,' and that the brow of the chief of them should be surmounted by a diadem as a visible token of his kingship.
Still more foolish chatter was indulged in. One Key, in a fit of confidence, disclosed his conviction that the Commissioners might be allowed to have 'control of the donkeys on the sand,' a remark which the Isle of Man Times said ' elicited marks of approval from all the donkeys round him.'
Perhaps Mr. Brown's language was no more excusable than that of the Keys, but in those days controversialists did not mince their words, and the Times retaliated on the Keys in their own broad way, and told the rude gentry to go to the people for their election before they presumed to speak with authority.
Mr. Brown was summoned to the bar of the House for his contempt, and, by some oversight, the Keys, sitting in the discharge of their legislative functions, sentenced the offender to a definite period of six months' imprisonment. The island was cast into quite a ferment. Appeal was made to the Court of Queen's Bench, which, on a review of musty law and ancient precedent, found that the Legislature had no such power as they had claimed and put into practice. On a writ of habeas corpus, Mr. Brown's immediate release was ordered.
But Mr. Brown, taken to Castle Rushen by force, declared that he must be expelled from his prison-cell by force. What humorous confusion would next have arisen had he chosen to remain we cannot tell. He spent another Sunday in gaol (six weeks and five days in all), and on Monday he reached Douglas, a great popular hero and martyr, with the fortunes of his paper established, and the further consolation of substantial damages already in sight.
Mr. John A. Brown was his father's right-hand man in all these tribulations and triumphs, and succeeded to the editorship after Thomas John Ouseley had led everybody a pretty dance with his literary pranks as ' Paul Pry in Douglas.'
Ouseley was a remarkable man, with great gifts but sad deficiencies. As a journalist at Shrewsbury he had the luck to fall in with Disraeli, who, seemingly, was attracted by the genius, enthusiasm, and fidelity of the man.
Disraeli never forgot a friend, and even when in Douglas, Ouseley, as poet, prose-writer, and man, was disappointing everybody, practising a liberty that knew neither satiety nor restraint, and earning by his editorship a mere pittance of thirty shillings a week, the statesman who was steadily rising to dazzling heights of fame and power never failed to write in the journalist's hours of sickness or depregsion words of comfort and good cheer. Ouseley is one of those instances which convince me that the newspaper press is a vast engine of destruction, and that it has sapped more genius than it has ever produced or discovered.
The Isle of Man Examiner, sometimes described, but no longer appropriately either in essence or limitation, as the organ of militant Nonconformity, which Mr. S. K. Broadbent conducts with such percipiency and success, belongs to 1880. Mr. Broadbent would tell us that the Examiner has fulfilled its pioneer work, and that it is now frankly Progressive and Liberal, though neither term has, in my judgement, any real significance on the island. The Isle of Man. Daily Times was started in 1897.
There have been innumerable other attempts at periodical publications, such as the Gazette, Standard, Star, Telegraph, Manxman, and Punch.
In 1824 we had a Manks Patriot; since 1906 we have had a newer Manx Patriot-and a bitter thorn he has proved in the side of presumption and pretence.
The Ramsey Courier, Mr. A. H. Teare's valiant champion of the claims of the North, commenced in 1884. The Peel City Guardian belongs to December, 1882. In March, 1891, Mr. Palmer began his Chronicle as a special advocate of the candidature for the House of Keys of Mr. Joseph Mylchrecst, the Manx ' Diamond King,' newly returned to his native isle. By January 26, 1895, the Chronicle had absorbed the Guardian, but the older title was retained in the amalgamation.
The latest addition to serial issues is the Manx Quarterly (1908), a publication of present interest and permanent value. No one busying himself with the portentous affairs of our little island or interested in our history (or the many idle tales that pass as such) can neglect so invaluable a repository of speculation and information.