[From 1911 MacDonnell Inquiry]



re "Manx Constitutional- Reform."

May 22, 1911.


In submitting some points for the consideration
of this Committee, I desire to acknowledge their
thoughtfulness for my health in permitting me to do
so in writing, rather than by requiring my appearance
and submitting my views in person, which I much
appreciate. I trust that what I communicate may be
of some assistance to the Committee in coming to a
practical conclusion.

The considerations I wish to submit are viewed
more from a commercial standpoint. I observe the
witnesses already examined deal with the questions
from legislative, legal, and other phases, but hitherto
no evidence appears to have been submitted from a
commercial standpoint, a defect which I trust may
be remedied before the Inquiry closes. And here let
me. observe that taking into account the Island's
situation, its climate, the productiveness of its soil. its
attractiveness as a pleasure resort, and the fact of its
being surrounded by the sea, with its opportunities for
fishing, and interchange of trade with the mainland
under the great advantage of water-carriage as
compared with railway, the Island is placed` in a
unique position, and obtains a range of markets for
its produce that is unequalled, and as such it ought to
be the happiest, most prosperous and contented portion
of the British Empire. It only requires efficient,
sympathetic administration, coupled with more healthy
economic conditions, to render it so.

I have carefully perused all the evidence as
published to date, and, as I anticipated in an article
published in the Ramsey Courier some weeks ago
(copies of which I enclose), the crux of the situation
lies not so much in the matter of legislative facilities,
but rather in the matter of responsible governinent,
associated with necessary safeguards. Apart from
that, in my opinion, there can be no satisfactory
settlement of the situation; any other settlement will
only tend toward causing the Keys to resort constantly
to their only weapon of defence at their command, as
recently exhibited, viz., to use simple language, " going
on strike," a condition of things much to be deplored,
and not calculated to advance the interests or harmony
of the community as a whole. I am fully aware that
from the evidence given by some of the members of
Keys, the House has not fully considered the logical
outcome of their request for an Advisory Committee,
but I submit that arises more from their timidity to
expose themselves to the retort that they are only
anxious to upset the present form of government to
provide lucrative berths for themselves, than from
any other cause.

I. I submit that under the present system of
government, ill the administration there is an absence
of opportunity for initiative from representative
persons. There is no part of the administration
charged with the duty of assisting or furthering the
interests of the commercial community, which is a
great defect and unhealthy. In support of that T
would point to the complete absence of any substantial
development oil the part of the Government in the
commercial interests of the community during the past
fifteen years, the policy pursued being that of simple
drift, hoping for better things.

II. Under the present method of appointment and
government there is not a position of value in the
Administration open to any member of the Legis-
lature outside the legal profession, which is a great
injustice to the commercial community. Lawyers are
not usually looked -upon as being the most capable
persons for furthering commercial interests, outside
their own domain of the law ; and second, the effect of
the membership of the House of Keys carrying with it
so little authority, and affording so little opportunity
for members to develop their gifts in the public
service has a, deterring influence upon young men and
prevents them giving their services as members, as can
easily be shown. So that, apart from some honourable
exceptions, the membership of the House of Keys is
largely made up of gentlemen who are attracted
chiefly by the little social distinction which membership
of the Legislature affords, rather than seeking to serve
the public interests by their gifts.

The commercial interests of the Island may be
classed under four heads: mining, fishing, visiting,
agriculture, and these I propose to review as briefly as
possible. My business experience of the Island extends
over a period of nearly forty years, and I am sorry to
have to admit that in my opinion, the result of close
examination and thoughtful consideration, the com-
mercial interests of the Island are just now passing
through one of the most trying periods of its history,
and it will require the most sympathetic and careful
handling if it is successfully to surmount the difficulties
by which it is confronted. The most serious problem
arises from the rapidly declining population in the
rural areas and the proportionate increase in the towns,
which is unhealthy and needs to be remedied to secure
a healthy state. The second is the constant drain
upon the Island's resources consequent upon the lack of
sufficient productive business to meet the incessant
drain in payments of interest, for supplies of food, etc.
Whilst, perhaps, the turnover of cash may be greater
to-day than formerly, the profitable nature of the
business to the benefit of the Island is much smaller in
proportion, and the charges upon the town authorities
for the relief of the poor forms a constantly increasing
amount, as witness the increases of rate necessitated in
the towns this year, the cause of which I hope to refer
to later.

To form a proper idea of the Island's position
to-day it is necessary I should review to some extent
its history during the past fifty years or so. At that
period (1861) the population of the rural areas exceeded
that of the towns by 11,420 persons; to-day the
situation is reversed and the figures are less than the
towns by 7,424-see figures.

Census 1861
Rural 31,821
Rural 22,310
Towns 20,411
Towns 29,124

The main cause of this change, or rather decline of
the rural population is attributable to the Disafforesting
Act of 1860, passed through the Legislature of this
Island by a self-elected House of Keys, in defiance of
the overwhelming voice of public opinion against. This
transaction is not creditable to the Imperial authority,
as it connived with the Legislature on condition that it
shared the plunder, a most unworthy action on their
part. Prior to this legislation the Island was very
largely a- land of small-holders, who cultivated their
lands and enjoyed, along with their holdings, the right
of free grazing upon the common lands, which included
a large tract and range of hills, is you will have
observed, stretching throughout the Island, extending
from north to south, so they were available for the
smallholder in every parish and district of the Island,
north. south, east and west. This privilege was avail-
able for ill tenants, but to the larger and more highly
cultivated lowland farmers it was not so valuable, as
they wished to grow a breed of sheep yielding more
flesh and not adaptable to the highlands, such as were
kept by the small holders, and the larger farmers
looked with jealous eyes upon the small holders enjoy-
ing the privilege which they could not share. Prior to
1860 some unpleasantness occurred owing to some of
the landowners seeking to enclose portions of the
commons for their own use. In this respect the late
Thomas Arthur Corlett (Vicar-General of the Island)
was the chief offender. The public threw down his
fences and there was much disturbance. The larger
farmers took advantage of this disturbance to agitate
for the taking away of the privilege of free grazing and
to employ the revenues to the payment of the Lord's rent
chargeable upon the land, in which they would have a
greater share.

Repeated protests were raised, deputations pro-
ceeded to London in opposition, but the proposal to
share the spoil proved too attractive to the Imperial
authority, and eventually the 1860 Act was passed,
under, which the commons became divided into three
parts-one part vested in trustees, the revenues to be
devoted to the payment of lord's rent; one-third to be
sold, the proceeds to be devoted to opening out better
roads throughout the common lands; and one-third to
the Crown-and, as such, the lands and revenues have
been since appropriated.

I submit the disposition having been carried out in
spite of the people's protest by a Legislature self-
elected and an Imperial authority dividing the spoil
between them, it was lacking in moral authority and
without proper binding force, and as such some amends
are due to the people thus deprived of their privileges.
The result has been most damaging to the best interests
of the whole community-in my opinion the most
damaging thing done in the history of the Island
during the past century. Farmsteads in the immediate
neighbourhood of the commons, which in those days
were amongst the most happy and comfortable upon
the Island, are to-day deserted, and the lands which
at that time were well cultivated are now reduced to
a waste or prairie value, whilst the people who
occupied them have been scattered the world over.
The " small holdings " in lower area have been gradually
merged into the larger holdings. Fortunately,
immediately following this disturbance of the existing
conditions, the Island developed in other directions
under Governor Loch's rëgime. Harbour works were
established, railways were opened, the towns developed
into visiting centres, and whilst these developments
and expenditure of capital continued the full pinch of
the displacement was not felt because of the increased
funds which were brought into circulation; but in the
natural course of events such expenditure must cease
at some period, it cannot go on for ever, and that
period would seem to have arrived, and the Island is
forced to depend more upon its own natural resources,
and being in that position it is felt that something must
be done to adjust matters if comfort is to be secured.

My personal opinion is that our staple industry
and that upon which the Island must ultimately
depend for its true prosperity is the land, and some-
thing needs to be done towards restoring the people
where they have been uprooted by the legislation of
the past. Every available yard of land should be turned
to full advantage, so as to some extent restore the
balance of population upon a more productive basis.
Apart from some productive expenditure to afford
employment during the winter, the visiting industry
has been found insufficient to provide for the people
engaged in its interests, hence the urgent demand
on the part of the lodging-house and hotel proprietors
for the expenditure of more money and greater
attention to advertising. Such claim, from my personal
knowledge, arises from the keen and pressing necessity
of the situation. The business of the boarding-house
keeper does not yield a sufficient return upon the
capital invested. In the course of my business I
have purchased comparatively new buildings in the
best positions at less than half their original cost. A
good deal more might be done by a kindly, sympathetic
government to assist the industry. A sympathetic
administration could render the industry much assist-
ance in many ways which I need not here indicate,
but the depression in the visiting business lies at the
basis of a good deal of the poverty at present existing
in the towns..

Fishing was another industry affording lucrative
employment of a productive nature for many years.
Manx fishermen were largely instrumental in opening
up and developing the mackerel and other fishing at
Kinsale and the west coast of Ireland
. In recent years
that industry has languished for want of proper modern
appliances to pursue the business successfully; whilst
other parts have been developing steam trawlers and
other modern forms of fishing craft, the Island in that
respect has remained attached to the old craft and
appliances, with the result that the once prosperous
and lucrative business of fishing has languished and has
ceased to be the advantage to the community that it
formerly afforded. Repeated applications have been
made during recent years to the Government for some
assistance toward its revival, but with no result, and it
has been left during the last year or two to a public
Benevolent Trust on the Island to come to its rescue.
As the result of a small expenditure on the part of the
Trust, most beneficial business has been secured,
showing conclusively the necessity and advantage which
would result from well-directed Government assistance.

But it is to the land, in my opinion, we must turn
for real and substantial help in the nature of a
productive industry for the Island. The larger farms,
in the main, are well cultivated and yield a substantial
return on the outlay, but there is no reason why the
productions of the Island should not yield double their
present output. It is little less than criminal that
such a, large proportion of the area of arable land of
the Island should be in the condition of being
unproductive or waste. During the last fifteen years I
have devoted a great deal of time and attention to the
subject as it applies to this district. In one area
through which the Sulby river passes (which under
proper conditions should be most productive and fruit-
ful), several hundreds of acres in extent, the land is
rendered in an unproductive state through its ex-
posure to the overflow of water from the river, which
river is under the control of the Highway Board and
much neglected. During these years, in company with
others, I have repeatedly petitioned such Board and
Tynwald Court for remedy and redress, with no result
beyond sympathetic talk. In another area, also some
hundred acres in extent (which formerly was most
productive) through the action of a mill-owner, who,
instead of using his proper mill-dam for the storage of
water for use of the mill, takes advantage of his
position and uses the watercourse for the purpose of
dam, to the great disadvantage of the abutting owners,
whose land in consequence is frequently flooded and
much of it rendered waste. The owners of this land,
in like manner with the others, have for years been
petitioning the Highway Board for some redress, but
without result, until the people concerned are driven
almost to despair. This is no coloured picture but
actual fact, and reveals some of the conditions
prejudicial to the best interests of the community.
Three years ago or thereabouts committees of the
Tynwald Court were appointed to make enquiries into
these matters relative to land and fishing, but nothing
beyond one or two sittings of the committees has, as
yet. resulted. If the Administration of this Island
had the representatives of the commercial interests at
its head, charged with the control of those interests, I
feel quite sure very different results would obtain.
There is a great demand for land to cultivate on the
part of our people, and while so much is lying idle or
unprofitably employed, our young people are compelled
in large numbers to emigrate, thus affording much loss
to the community.

Upon the question of small holdings and the
suitability of the soil of the Island for the cultivation
of fruit, vegetables and flowers, I enclose copy of
evidence submitted by me to Tynwald Court committee,
the conclusions of which I submit are absolutely sound
and reliable. I have since had opportunity of confer-
ring with gentlemen. well acquainted with such culti-
vation who agree. I have also submitted fruit and other
productions to those of long experience of the business
in Liverpool and other markets, who likewise confirm.

I look to that as the most practical and effective
method of restoring the balance of population, providing
increased employment during the winter, and
generally improving the condition of things from a
commercial aspect.

As the Crown has taken a portion of the lands
which caused the depletion, I think the revenues there-
from, together with the revenues derived by the
Commons Trustees, should be devoted to such
restoration. Referring to my statement in enclosed
article that the appointment of a small executive for
all administrative purposes, who should each be paid a
salary for their services, I suggested that the money.
now expended in the payment of members of those
Boards would go a long way toward providing such
remuneration. The funds now expended, including the
salary to Receiver-General and Vicar-General would
amount, in round numbers, to about 1,000l.

Following upon a reformation of the departmental
procedure provided by Tynwald, there should accompany
it a re-arrangement of the Local Boards. It is
not conducive to good government to have in each
town and rural area so many small isolated Boards,
all elected for separate purposes and raising separate
funds for administration, etc. I would suggest that
there should be only one rating authority for the
purposes of public health, education. and poor relief for
each town, and similar Boards for all purposes, one for
each sheading. This grouping of districts and purposes
might for a time cause a little friction, but eventually
it would lead to a much more efficient administration
at less expense.

The commercial interests, in my opinion, would
approve of a Legislative Chamber partly elected by the
people and partly nominated by the Crown. The
members popularly elected to retire all at one election,
not a proportion each third year as suggested. The
Commons Trustees retire in turn as suggested in Keys'
Petition and the elections are a decided failure-no
interest taken in them. Nomination from the Keys by
the Keys would be equally unacceptable, for the reason
that it would lend itself to lobbying and district in-
fluences, which are highly objectionable. The most
equitable system would be direct election by the people
in larger areas. Easier and cheaper means should be
provided at the instance of the Government to enable
persons of good character to obtain money for the
provision of the necessary buildings and other deve-
lopments upon their lands than now obtain, such as
are enjoyed by Ireland and other places.

These in general are my views on the commercial
aspect. With an Executive as at present appointed,
independent of public opinion, who do not feel the
pressure of the situation themselves personally, whose
main attention lies in other forms of business, I do not
think is calculated to secure the results desired for
the well-being of the community as a whole.

I commend these points to the notice of your
Committee, and should they require further infor-
mation I shall be pleased to furnish same on hearing
from you.

Apologising for the length of the communication
and its hurried preparation.

I remain,

Yours faithfully,


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2005