Rechabites

Rechabite badge

And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine.
But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us saying. Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever.

Jeremiah 35:5-6

Introduction

 The 'Seven Men of Preston' are generally credited with starting the total abstinence movement in August 1833, whereby signers of the pledge promised to abstain from all intoxicating liquors - the man who drew up the pledge was Joseph Livesey, a provision merchant and sometime publisher, who appended the original six names to it. James Teare, was not one of these six but became associated with the movement shortly afterwards - as might be expected he was of Manx birth, living in Preston. Described as 'intensely earnest and impressive', he is often credited with introducing the movement to the Island following a lecture tour in December 1835.

Mutual benefit societies (e.g. Oddfellows) had been established prior to this date but often these would meet at public houses whereby working men were tempted to spend money on alcohol - many landlords seemed to have encouraged the formation of such societies with an eye to the business their weekly meetings would bring in. It had already been suggested that temperance friendly societies should be established that would meet away from such places. The first specific mention of a Teetotal society was in July 1835 in Livesey's Preston Temperance Advocate when a Mr Hadfield proposed the establishment of a Teetotal Order something like the Oddfellows. Some time around 1835 the Salford Temperance Burial Society had been established with an aim to help defray the funeral expenses of members - this met at the Salford Temperance Coffee House. Hadfield's suggestion formed the basis of an editorial in the August issue of Livesey's magazine and the Salford society decided to establish such a total abstinence benefit society to be run on fraternal (i.e. non-profit) lines.

The early temperance movement was strongly associated with Primitive Christian sects, Primitive Methodists especially were often strongly associated with Rechabitism though it appears that the literary genius who invented the name was Rev Joseph Thompson who was minister of Mr Brotherton's chapel (whose members also espoused vegetarianism). The Biblical quote suggested the name and as the Sons of Rechab dwelt in tents, the choice of the 'tent' as the basis of each society (equivalent to 'lodge' of the Masons etc.) was also obvious. The other, fanciful, names for officials of Ruler, Levite etc. drew on a Masonic background via the Oddfellows etc. Note the Masonic emblems of Eye, Sun and Moon within the badge, as well as the tepee-like tents.

The first meeting of Ebenezer Tent No 1 took place on 25th August 1835 and by November 1835 a detailed set of rules, system of initiation, fines etc. had been drawn up and printed. Later that month a second Salford tent was established - Livesey naturally used his publication to promote the cause. By April 1836 twelve tents had been established around Manchester. The number of tents more than doubled to 27 by August 1836 - Tent no 22 was 'Mona Union' established at Douglas in July 1836. Founder members of this first tent, supposedly founded by two men from Manchester, were:

John Morrison,
William Renny,
Robert Cannell,
John Trimbel,
William Stephen,
James Kelly,

Thomas Cannell,
Thomas Tinnion,
Thomas Robert Cartwright,
Robert Fargher,
John Cain,
James Hales, and
Edward Kelly.

Robert Fargher was the editor of Mona's Herald, a strong temperance advocate and radical Methodist LP (having just been expelled from the Wesleyans and later associated with the Primitive Methodists). John Cain, bookseller, was another radical Methodist (and also Local Preacher) also expelled from the Wesleyans in 1835. James Hales was another Wesleyan LP expelled with John Cain but later readmitted. Caine identifies the John Morrison as grandfather of Thomas Cannell, a Northside WM LP - he attended conference in 1840 as Past DCR and as a 90 year old retired Mariner still living in Peel, contributed to the history in 1883. John Kelly was probably the well known PM LP at Union Mills who was reported in 1837 as having left the organisation.
(Renny, Trimbel and Tinnion, all non-Manx names cannot be found in 1841 census)

Cambell in his history of the Rechabites mentions some initial dissent in the organisation with some form of illegal meeting held at Prescot in August 1836 to which delegates from the Isle of Man were induced to attend. However no Manx delegates attended the first anniversary meeting in Salford at the end of August.

In December 1836 the growth was such that tents needed to be organised into Districts and the Isle of Man was made District No. 6.

Island tents at about this time were

22 Mona Union Douglas
49 Mona Zion, Dalby, (later failed)
50 Mona Jonadab Tent, Kirk Michael founded February 28th, 1837;
60 Mona Joshua Tent at Peel, founded in March or early April 1837, shortly afterwards changed name to Star of Mona
61 Mona Daniel Tent, founded at Castletown, on April 12th, 1837.
The following were founded prior to 1850
912 Mona Fellowship, Ramsey, 1842
1018 Mona Salem, Foxdale Mines - c.1843 (later failed)
1039 Mona's Delight , Kirk Lonan (Laxey) - 1844 (later failed).
Later tents (reported in 1897 IoM Examiner Annual) were
Mona Joshua at Ballaugh. 1865
Mona Ebenezeer, Sulby, 1866
Good Samaritan, Crosby, 1867
Sons of Mona , Laxey, 1867
Star of Foxdale, 1870,
Rising Star, Glenmaye, 1870,
Santon Union, Santon, 1887
King Orry, Onchan, 1896

John Cain may have been the first leader as he is quoted by Caine as signing himself C.R. (Chief Ruler) in a report in July 1837; Robert Fargher was noted as District Chief Ruler in 1837 and attended the 2nd Moveable Conference in 1837, along with William Fargher of Peel and John Cowell and William Clarke of Castletown. On 29 July 1837 the Manx Liberal carried the following mocking report on a Rechabite procession:

TEE-TOTAL AND RECHABITE ANNIVERSARY MEETING.

" All the world's a stage.

And all the men and women merely players."

The truth of the above lines of our immortal Bard, are every day more and more confirmed, for scarcely has one silly pageant passed from our view, but another, if possible still sillier, is ready to supply its place, and the rival candidates for absurd distinction, jostle each other on the stage for precedence. We were led into this train of thinking by the motley exhibition of Tuesday last. With the nature of tee-totalism, no one can find fault, we feel favourably disposed towards it, from the great and obvious benefit it has conferred on society, being mainly instrumental in removing from it many vile and revolting scenes of self-debasement and self-sacrifice;— good indeed must be that institution or society, let it be Rechabite Tee-total, Temperance, or what it may, which has the power to arrest the steps of man on the downward path to perdition, and that too at a time when all other stay has lost its power and efficacy.

This could all be accomplished, and men, however vile; could return to that line of duty they had so recklessly left, without all this parade of flags, stars, gilt sparrows, inverted wine glasses, scarfs, medals, rosettes and such masonic or odd fellow-looking trumpery, without having recourse to

" The thundering drum,
Or the vile squeaking of the wry-neck'd fife,"

and filling our peaceable old town with all the tumult and noise of a general election; but even admitting the utility of the procession, as regards the males, we know not a more ridiculous, nay, revolting spectacle than that of the rosy checked daughters of our Isle — against whom it would be foul and wrong even to breathe a suspicion injurious to their virtues — to see them parading our streets and forming a conspicuous part in the procession, and courting observation, — the retiring from which is women's greatest charm, and allowing the world to judge that their practices must have been the most abandoned, to justify each a humiliation, in which

" They roughen to the sense,
And all the winning softness of the sex is lost."

It is equally, or even more absurd, to foster in the minds of children of the most tender years, that love of parade and show which is eagerly enough imbibed, without such excitement We observed many whose age could not have been more than five or six years, of course, utterly unable to form a judgment, or have a correct idea of what they were doing, and who no doubt considered the whole matter as a day of play and holiday, rather than one which was in some degree to influence their future conduct.

The procession, headed by the Rev. E. Qualtrough, in his canonicals, and supported by Messrs. Fargher and Morrison, passed down the market, along the quay, and to St George's church, by way of Athol-street, where an eloquent sermon was preached to the brethren, by the above gentleman. After divine service they paraded through the principal streets, and in the market-place sang a hymn suitable to the occasion, a short address was delivered to the multitude by Mr. Hocking, the Birmingham blacksmith, after which they marched to the school-room, Thomas street, where they partook of tea and coffee, and where they again formed and passed over the bridge, down the South-quay, and to Fort Anne.

In the evening they assembled in the Lancasterian school-room, Athol-street, when different members delivered their sentiments on the occasion. Mr. Fargher, at some length, explained the passage of scripture on which the name of Rechabites was founded, and showed that the Rechabites abstained from all Intoxicating liquors, planted no vines, sowed no seed, lived in tents, &c. If the present follow the example of their ancient predecessors, they have here a splendid climate for its exercise, and a November day in the Isle of Man, with no other covering than a tent, minus both corn and wine, is a combination which does

" Sweetly commend itself unto our gentle senses;'"

The next who greatly claimed our attention, was the Birmingham blacksmith, who, in a speech of full two hours, used much convincing argument in favour of the cause he was advocating, illustrated with many homely, but trite anecdotes. We think it would be difficult to meet with an advocate better suited for furthering the cause of "tee-totalism," — he seems sincere and zealous, and possesses, in an eminent degree, that flow of language best calculated to make an impression on those most likely to derive benefit from it

A collection was afterwards made to defray the expenses, — what constituted the expenses, we did not learn, neither the number of recruits to the cause of Rechabism. On Wednesday there was a field day at Castletown, Thursday at Peel and yesterday at Ramsey.

The 'licensed jester ' also had a go:

TO THE EDITOR OF THE MANY LIBERAL,. Sir,-I hope you will allow me a place in your columns, especially as I promise to be brief, for the purpose of publicly announcing to all the losers of a "little sup,' that I for one have recanted, left their ranks, and become a convert to the new creed — the total privation mania, now so prevalent. My acquaintances are at a loss to account for such a sudden transition from the "sublime to the ridiculous," by thus pledging myself to abstain from the use of that which I never abused ! But they are in ignorance of the secret which induced me to take this step, and which I now wish to explain, in order that my motives may not be unjustly impugned.

Impelled by curiosity, I took my station at the corner of a street, to witness the imposing procession pass along of the Tee-total brethren and sisterhood, on Tuesday last, which some of my pot-companions (vile brutes!) compared to Falstaff's ragged regiment marching through Coventry, — I, however, admired the exhibition, especially when my optics encountered the ravishing and entrancing sight of so many ladies all marshalled and walking the streets to the soul-stirring sounds of " drum and fife," preceded too by the attractive banner displaying the starvling drunkard divested of his in-expressibles! Such a phalanx of female beauty I never witnessed before ; they looked so amiable, having now renounced all intoxicating liquors, and withal so modest, " bearing their blushing honours thick upon them ;" — they completely eclipsed the haughty "lords of the creation," who had the audacity to walk in front of this lovely train. No wonder a youth in his teens should be enamoured, it was perfectly irresistible ; I instantly acknowledged Cupid's sovereignity, and sighed for the white scarf and tee-total medal, as the grand qualification which would procure me distinction, and recommend me to the notice of one of these charming nymphs. In short, when evening came, I went to hear the Brumagum blacksmith hold forth, who proved as certain as the sparks fly upward, that ale, wine, and spirits, are as poisonous as hemlock and henbane, but how it came to pass that the apostle should recommend his brother Timothy to take poison for his stomach's sake and to relieve his infirmities! I did not stop to enquire — (but I have no doubt any of our " new lights" could easily tell why' ) — "the little god of love my bosom haunted," and before the smoke which the smith produced had dissipated, I struck while the iron was hot, and signed the pledge, in the hope that the day would not now be far remote, when my bliss would be consummated by being united to one of the water-drinking fair; the only obstacle which I am afraid will militate against such an union, is my unfortunate cognomen of

Your's, &c.Phil. Tosspot.

Gutter-y-gable, July 27, 1837.

The band it appears travelled free from Liverpool as yet another letter to the Editor made clear:

Mr EDITOR - The great outcry at this moment throughout the Island is the high fares of the Old Steam Company, and which act as an insurmountable bar to the influx of visiters Whether such is the case or not I presume not to say; but I cannot patiently hear any class of men vilified unjustly, or their measures too lively canvasased-and that so far from the fares being too high, I learned with suitable astonishment the other evening, at the Tee-total meeting, that they were in some cases absolutely nothing, on a vote. of thanks being ,passed to the Directors of the Mona Steam Company for their kindness in giving the band a free passage !Now, I would ask, what are the pretensions of the band or that of their friends to ask such a favour ? or what particular claim had they on the Directors to get it? I, for one, am of the decided opinion that free passage would be denied to applicants having a better claim on the charity of the Directors in every sense of the word; neither can I understand why noise, brass, or boxwood, should be a passport to the loving kindness and tender mercies of any. I am, Sir, &c.,

A STEERAGE PASSENGER BY THE QUEEN.
Douglas, July 27, 1837.

On 30 Dec 1837 notice was given of a Rechabite teaparty.

In 1838 some dispute over travelling expenses to the conference (attended by Fargher and John Cannell) seems to have occurred for the Manx Liberal 10 Nov 1838 reports

At the Deemster's Court in this town, on Monday last, a suit was heard in which Mr. Robert Fargher was plaintiff, and Messrs. John Cain, John Morrison, and George Quiggin, defendants. All the litigants are members of the Rechabite Society, and it appeared in evidence that Mr. F. and another of the brethren, named Cannell, had been sent as delegates to a similar association in England. To defray their expenses, these two deputies were to receive 7s. 6d.. a day each, and Cannell had actually been paid for his mission ; but payment was refused to the plaintiff, defendants alledging they had made no agreement with him, as that department of the Tee-total financial concerns was the province of other officers. The defence not proving satisfactory' to the Court, judgement was awarded in favour of plaintiff, to the full amount, with costs.

This may reflect some more deep seated disagreement with Robert Fargher who was appointed to the National Business Committee at the conference in 1838 but does not appear to have played any role after this time. From 1836 to 1838 Fargher published The Isle of Man Temperance Advocate and Guardian which formed the semi-official newspaper of the Rechabites but at the 1839 conference they decided to publish their own newspaper. According to Caine this was produced by William Livesey, brother to Joseph Livesey and sometime resident of Douglas, the publishers were Lees and Robinson with an address in Athol Street (and later W. Robinson) though by 1846 the circulation of this was giving cause for concern. In early 1839 Fargher published a snide attack on a Rechabite funeral procession which drew a response in the Manx Liberal (6 April 1839) from 'a Son of Rechab' stating

No man appears so contemptible in the eyes of his neighbours, as when he commits some excess under the demoniacal influence of malice and revenge. These hateful passions, I am sorry to observe, have been running riot in the breast of a certain "renegade Rechabite" of the town to a lamentable extent, as is indicated by a paragraph in the Herald of Tuesday last.

It is not clear who attended the 1839 conference but in 1840 John Morrison attended as Past DCR and in 1841 Joseph Maxwell (probably a cabinet Maker in Douglas) as DCR - after this no Manx representative would appear to have attended national conference until 1850.

Caine laments the loss of early documents relating to the first two decades - later years can be more fully researched, especially as the documents relating to the Island have been deposited in the Manx National Heritage (Museum) Library. It would appear that the Island may have been the first to institute a juvenile branch (for those under 16) as well as having an active Female Tent (for which a medal was struck in 1840 but many records appear lost leaving just tantalising glimpses in the newspapers.

The Manx Liberal, 27 April 1844, carried the following:

A tent in connexion with the Independent Order of Rechabites opened at Kirk Lonan on Tues evening last, called Mona's Delight, when 22 individuals were initiated.
We rejoice to hear that three new tents and upwards of 100 members have been added in the last three months not withstanding the apathy of the Teetotal Society which appears either to have gone dead or fallen into an inglorious slumber.

Rechabite bands were a major feature of anniversary marches, both of the Rechabites and many other organisations. The Manx Liberal 10 June 1843, mentions the Juvenile Rechabite Society with its own band, including fifes and drums that marched to the Nunnery Gardens in association with the Strang Friendly Society Anniversary.

Like many of the earlier benefit societies the actuarial basis on which contributions were calculated was not safe and would ultimately lead to financial collapse. In the early days, with a predominantly young and healthy membership, premiums seemed more than sufficient (in the past many benefit societies felt so affluent as to fund anniversary meals) but as the membership aged the demands on the sickbox would increase and eventually overtake contributions. The national committee sought advice on this topic in 1845 which lead to an increase in subscriptions and a severe drop in enrollment. However the crisis was weathered in 1850 and the actuarially safe tables ensured the continuation of the organisation.

By 1873 the Island was numerically the largest district with 12 tents, 1600 members and experiencing rapid growth (300 new members in a year) reaching just under 2,500 by 1883 (3,185 in 1897). Almost certainly many members would not be strict tee-totallers - personal discussion with a member who joined in the early 1930's would indicate that signing the pledge on membership was by then a formality and had been for many years though it should be added that many Manx Methodists are still tee-total.

The advent of the welfare state after WW2 removed the need for young entrants to the job market to join such societies, the membership aged but unless they continued their membership any money allocated for their funeral etc defaulted to the society. Thus the last 20 years have seen a much reduced membership - the Manx societies disbanded in the 1970's and assets were transferred to head office; the records, some of the ceremonial sashes etc are now in the Manx Museum.

References:

P.W. Caine 100 Years of Manx Rechabitism Douglas: IOR 1936

Richardson Cambell Rechabite History: A Record of the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Independent Order of Rechabites Manchester IOR 1911

Book of Odes Manchester 1902

See also Finding out more.


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