[Taken from The Manx Church Magazine Vol 6 Sep, Oct & Nov 1896]

[apologies - some mis-scans to be corrected]


By G. W. WOOD, A.K.C., Streatham, London.

There are some interesting points in connection with the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the Manx language and the various forms and editions in which they have appeared which are not generally known, and it is perhaps not too much to say that the interest is less because the Manx version has ceased to be in current usage. The best historical account of the earlier editions is to be found in the Rev. Wheeden Butler’s " Memoirs of Mark Hildesley, D.D., Bishop of Sodor and Man" published in 1799, a work which has become scarce. Scattered information may also be obtained from the reports of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and the British and Foreign Bible Society, in Anderson’s " Memorial respecting the diffusion of the Sacred Scriptures in the Celtic or Iberian Dialects," published by the Edinburgh Bible Society in 1819 ; and in the " Bible of Every Land." An article also appeared from the pen of Mr Arthur Moore in the Manx Church Magazine of July, 1894.

The Manx language is so fast hastening to its end as a spoken tongue, that Bibles, Prayerbooks, Hymn-books, and other religious books in that language have ceased to be in demand except as curiosities or relics of the past. There are, however, still some Manx men and women who can and do read their Manx Bible, and some who even read it critically, but few are aware of the number of phases and editions through which the book has passed.

Before the middle of the 18th century the Manx people—and there were many then who could not speak or understand English—were without a Bible or any portion of it printed in their own tongue, although it had been translated into English by Myles Coverdale, and printed as far back as the year 1535. The Welsh Bible was completed in 1588 ; the Irish in 1682, and the Scotch not until 1807. In the churches the Manx services and lessons were read or translated by the clergy from an English Common Prayer and Bible before them "according to the different sense, attention and ability of the officiating minister " (1) and these translations it is said were sometimes sadly inaccurate. (2)

To Bishop Wilson the honour is due of removing the disabilities under which the Manx people suffered, by supplying them with the first instalment of the Scriptures in Manx. This consisted of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which was translated under the Bishop’s auspices and printed at his own expense. The translation is believed by some to have been made by Dr. William, Vicar-General of the Diocese, it having been determined upon between the Bishop and himself whilst prisoners together in Castle Rushen. This imprisonment took place in 1722, whereas the book did not appear until 1748. The title was in Manx " Yn Sushtcml scruit liorish yn Noo Mian " (The Gospel written by St Matthew). It is a small 8vo. book of 106 pages, and the verses are in single column. It was printed by John Oliver, London, the printer to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The orthography is widely different from that of succeeding editions, and errors of omission and commission are numerous, The most curious differences in spelling from the now recognised orthography are airh (gold) for aer firmament, uy for oi~ (night) niau (heaven) for neic (un) as in neu-glen (unclean). Only a few copies appear to have been printed, and these were chiefly for the use of the clergy.

The second instalment of the Scriptures appeared in 1763 and consisted of the four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. Its title, however, was the more comprehensive one of "Conaant Noa" (New Testament). To Bishop Wilson also the credit has been gives of causing the translation of this volume to be made, hut it did not appear in print until eight years after his death. At this point, however, Bishop Wilson's successor in the See, Bishop Hildesley, took up the good work even more zealously than his predecessor had done, and to that end he enlisted the cooperation of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The unrevised manuscript is stated to have been discovered among Bishop Wilson’s papers,(The original translator of this volume is said also to have been Dr William Walker. This is on the authority of the Rev William Crebbin, Vicar of Jurby, who had lived with Bishop Wilson, and was certain that the copies which the Bishop lent him for perusal were in Dr Walker’s handwriting. (~) The Gospel of St. Matthew in this edition had undergone a thorough revision following the first edition (1748) both as regards orthography and the rendering of many of the passages which, revision is stated to have been made by the original translator Dr Walker, the revisers of the other portions being the Rev Matthias Curphey and Rev James Wilks. The orthography is practically the same as that of the later edition (1771-75). which fixed the standard of modern Manx spelling. The printers were J. and W. Oliver, of London, the same firm who printed St. Matthew’s Gospel. The book is of 8vo. size, and is arranged in double columns One thousand copies were distributed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge under the direction of Bishop Hildesley.

The work of translating and preparing for the Press the remaining portion of the New Testament was energetically directed by Bishop Hildesley, who also collected subscriptions amounting to nearly £300 on behalf of the above named society in aid of the expense of printing and free distribution. He also himself contributed £50 The translation of this the third instalment of the Scriptures was made by the Rev. James Wilkes and the revision by the Rev. M. Curphey. Although the title page runs as follows— "Sceeuyn Paul yn Ostyl gys ny Romanee" (Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans)—it really comprised the whole of the Epistles and the Revelation. It was printed in 1767 for the S.P.C.K. by W. Sheperd (of Whitehaven) at Ramsey — the title page gives only Mannyng (Man) — and the verses in this edition are in single column. One thousand copies were issued. This then completed the translation of the New Testament into Manx.

It was, however, the great ambition of Bishop Hildesley that the Manx people should possess the entire Bible in their native tongue, and he lost no time in making arrangements for the accomplishment of this object. He distributed the books of the Old Testament for translation between twenty-four persons, viz, his Vicar-General, Archdeacon, Rector, a Chaplain fourteen Vicars, six Curates, and one gentleman who seems to have had no clerical appointment (all of whom were resident in the Island), and one, the Rev William Fitzsimmons, who was a minister in Edinburgh. The Pentateuch was finished and printed in Whitehaven by John Ware and Son on April 13th, 1770. On March 19th, 1771, a second portion, from Deuteronomy to Job inclusive, was being taken from the Island to Whitehaven by Dr Kelly (by whom the whole of the Old Testament was transcribed) when the vessel was shipwrecked and the manuscript was almost the only article saved (memoirs of Bishop Hildesley, p. 231). The first volume to the end of Esther was completed on July 2nd, 1771, and the second and remaining volume (concluding the work) was finished and placed in Bishop Hildesley’s hands on November 28th, 1772, or only nine days before his death. He was thus enabled to see the fulfillment of his designs. It is not generally known that of the first volume there are two distinct editions, one bearing date 1771, the other, 1772. That these were separate and distinct will appear for the following reasons. The title-pages are of different type and the 1771 edition is without the Episcopal Arms which appear in the title-page of 1772. The setting up of the type varies in the two editions, and furthermore there are some important variations in the renderings, e.g., Judges xv. 3-4-5, in the 1771 edition Samson’s foxes with fire-brands tied to their tails are rendered consistently with the English version. In that of 1772 they are translated " sheaves of corn" (harneeynaiuoo). Also I Kings, xvii, 6, the words ‘ as circa as ,feili sujn ((Stl/J ‘ (and bread and flesh in the evening) are omitted by accident from the first edition, but appear in the second. These and other discrepancies which I have noted point to a revision and re-setting of the type—a serious and expensive matter for so short an interval as one year—and I have been much exercised to account for it. No information is given upon the point in "Memoirs of Bishop Hildesley," which otherwise gives full and minute particulars of the printing and publication of the early Manx editions of the Scriptures.

Thinking that the old Minute Books of the S.P.C.K. might throw some light upon the question, I sought an interview with Mr Maclure, the able Secretary of that Society, who kindly promised to have a search made. This has been done, but has unfortunately yielded no information. I have, however, lately come into possession of a copy of the large Manx Bible (in quarto size) of which only a few copies were printed for the use of the clergy. It bears date 1775, and from it, I think, some information may be gathered. The setting-up of this large Bible is in three columns per page, and was, we are told in the Memoirs before referred to, formed by breaking and re-arranging the existing type of the 8vo. edition, as was afterwards done in the case of the Liturgy of. 1777. This, so far as the first volume was concerned, probably took place, as indeed the Memoirs imply, after the first impression of 1000 copies had been printed, so as to be in readiness for the addition of the remaining volumes as they were completed. It was probably thought that the number printed would be sufficient to meet the requirements for some time to come, but before a year had passed it was found that the impression ( 1000) was " very far inadequate to the importunate demands of the people ‘ (letter of Rev P. Moore, May 1, 1772, vide Memoirs, p. 636), and a further number of the first volume was required. Instead of re-arranging the type (if indeed it had not been broken up altogether) in its original 8vo form, it was evidently considered more desirable to reset the volume, and this furnished the opportunity to the translators to make any corrections which they might desire. The same necessity was probably obviated in the case of the second and third volumes by striking off a larger number of copies before breaking the type for the large volume. But it was not until the New Testament had been revised and printed in 1775 to form the third 8vo volume that the large Bible could be completed by breaking and re-arranging the type as already explained. Hence the date which it bears (1775). The strongest proof that the first setting of the first volume had been broken up prematurely was furnished by the passages to which I have referred in Judges and Kings and elsewhere, the renderings of which in the large Bible are in accord with those of the 1771 edition, but do not agree with those of the later version of 1772. It may therefore, I think, be taken as proved that there were two distinct settings up of the first volume of the Bible within one year of each other.

It is worthy of note that the second volume of the 8vo Old Testament, as well as the large Bible, contain two of the Apocryphal Books, viz., ‘ Creenagh ( lJ5i~lonu. ot) Solomon. " and ‘‘ I’]eclesiasticus." Another feature perhaps worth mentioning is that in this edition numerous explanatory footnotes were used. These were discarded in the edition of 1819.

Although the entire Bible had now been translated and circulated, the need was felt for a further supply of the New Testament. This, therefore, only required revision from the editions of 1748 and 1763 before republication, as volume 3 of the new Bible. The revision was made by the Rev J. Wilks and the Rev M. Curphey. Two thousand copies were printed at Whitehaven and gradually circulated in the island by the S.P.C.K. The principal error which I have noticed in this edition consists in the omission of part of verse 4, of the xii. chapter of St. Matthew—" ny. clan vooinjer va rn((resh " (or to the people who were with him),

The next edition in order of date is given on the authority of Mr William Harrison, the author of " Bibliotheca Monensis " as 1777, in two volumes. I have never seen or elsewhere heard of a copy of this edition ; in fact the weight of evidence is against its existence. Bishop Hildesley, writing in 1775, informed the Society that to supply the then demand and even future ones, until the end of the century at least, there yet remained a sufficient quantity of both Testaments in hand. It may therefore, I think, be concluded that no such edition exists. Up to this time, as will have been seen by the foregoing, the S.P.C.K. were the only body engaged in the good work of printing and circulating the Scriptures in Manx, and in all they distributed about 6,000 copies of the Bible and Testament, and between the years 1762 and 1798 there was raised about £4,000 in aid of the Manx Scriptures. and other religious publications. Here~ after the duty of supplying the spiritual wants of the islanders was taken up by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The 4th Report of that Society, dated 1808, states " that a Committee had directed their enquiries with respect to the necessity of an edition of the Scriptures in the Manks language for the accommodation of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man." It was thereupon resolved by the Society that a Manx version should be printed. This was afterwards done in a smaller size than had hitherto been adopted, viz., 12mo instead of 8vo, the new size being certainly more convenient for carrying than the bulky volume of 1775.

The New Testament (Conaant Noa) appeared in the year 1810, and was printed from stereotyped plates. It was practically copied from the edition of the S.P.C.K. of 1775 ; but, curiously enough, many— chiefly orthographical — errors were allowed to creep in which did not occur in the earlier edition. I have counted over 80 such errors in the 28 chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel. Perhaps the most unfortunate blunder in this edition of the Testament occurs in Luke v., 29, where the word maroo " with them " is misprinted marroo " dead," causing the passage to read " and there was a great company of publicans and others that sat at the table dead " ! Further issues of the New Testament with only change of date, printer, &c., appeared in 1815, and possibly in other years, but I do not possess, nor have I seen, a copy of later date than 1824.

The complete Bible (but without any portion of the Apocrypha) was published by the same Society in 1819 in one volume, 8vo. Again it was copied from the 3-volume Bible of the S.P.C..K., and is said to have been revised therefrom by Mr John Kewley, of Ballanard, Onchan. It does not, however, appear to what extent or in what respect any revision was made. I have compared it carefully with its predecessor , and find no alterations whatever, not even the correction of palpable errors. As examples, see II Kings x., 1—" As vee Ahab three jed mee alns Samaria " (and Ahab had three score sons in Samaria "), the words " as jeih " (and ten) being omitted in both editions. Also Acts xxv., 5—" Lhij daues,jn er-y-tr shea, AS eshyn " (Let them therefore, and he), the Manx word as (and) being used instead of " dooyrt " (said). The same error also occurs in verse 22. This error occurs in all editions after that of 1763. Note also St John xviii.. 18, the words " as hass Peildyi maroo, as hiow elt eh liene " (and Peter stood with them and warmed himself) are omitted in the 1775 edition, and the omission is perpetuated in that of 1819. I do not, therefore, see how or why Mr Kewley’s name is mentioned as having any hand in " revising" the Manx Bible. Of course, the discontinuance of the footnotes previously referred to cannot be regarded as entitling him to honourable mention, even were he responsible for it. In other respects the edition of 1819 is well printed and far more creditable to the society than the New Testaments of both earlier and later dates above mentioned. A large number—about 5,000 (1)—was circulated, and this is the edition which one generally sees in the hands of the Manx people, who still pride themselves in possessing a Manx Bible. it is out of print, but a copy is still to be seen in the window of the British and Foreign Bible Society’s depot in Queen Victoria-street, London, although only as a curiosity, and " not for sale."

The last volume of the Scriptures which appeared in Manx, so far as I am aware, was the New Testament of 1825. This was also published by the same society, and agrees with the editions of 1810 and 1815 before mentioned, even as regards errors.

The total number of Bibles and Testaments issued by the two societies may be summarised as follows : —

Year of Edition.




Parts. Whole

Parts. Whole.



a few (say) 50










S.P.C.K. 1772

 - 2,000






 say 40, in 4to.








B&F.B.S 1815... ...









Total number of volumes 13 340

to end the year 1819. . . 5

Add for year 1824 about. . . 750

Total . . . 14,090 copies.

It is claimed for the Manx translation of the Bible that it was made from the original Hebrew and Greek versions. The title page supports this view, viz., Veih ny chied ghlaraghyn dy kiaralggh chyndait 'ayns Gailck ' (from the first tongues carefully translated into Gaelic [Manks] ). Whether the whole body of 24 translators, who were for the most part clergymen of the Isle of Man, understood Hebrew and Greek is perhaps questionable ; but probably the Rev Philip Moore, who acted as reviser and corrector of, at least, the Old Testament, did so. In a letter written by him of June 6th, 1780, to another clergyman, he states that the method adopted was " to consider and treat the Scriptures as we would any other classical author of whom a new translation was to be made." In consequence of which he adds "we were under the necessity of making many variations from the present English version. These variations have indeed led to the Manx version being described as "Bowdlerised,"

The better known of them are given in Mr Moore's article above mentioned, but there are others of a similar character not noted elsewhere. In some cases where the sense is obscure in our English version, or otherwise open to objection the Manx translation certainly conveys a clearer and more definite meaning, and it may help to explain why those Manksmen and women, who are able to read the Manx bible and certainly understand English quite as well as their mother-tongue, are known still to give the preference to the Manx version. As instances of this I would quote the following passages :-St Mark vii. "But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, that is to say a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me ; he shall be free. Revised version says Given to God. Manx version. Agh ta ,shiuish gra, My jir dooinney rish e ayr ny e you, She Corban eh, ta shen dy ghra, Yn chooid-choonee shen oddagh uss jerkal rish voyim's, te gioot er ny chasherickey gys Jee.

Englished thus-But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, It is Corban, that is to say, that relief which thou mightest expect from me, it is a gift sanctified to God.

St. Matt. xxiii, 14. For ye (Pharisees) devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer.
Manx-Son ta shiu cieiy fo thieyn mraanee-treoghe, as san scaa dy chraueeaght lhiggey eiriu dy ce kinjagh ayns padjer.
Englished thus-For ye dig under (undermine) widows' houses and for a semblance of piety allow yourselves to be always in prayer.


(1) Letter from bishop Hildesley to John Byrom, 23rd Nov. 1755,

(2) Jenner on the Manx Language p. 21,

(1) Memoirs of Bishop Hildesley p. 235.

(2) Ibid. p. 254.

.1- Andersons Memorial of the Sacred Scriptures, p. 23.

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