[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #3 1924]
P G. RALFE.
11th March, 1920.
From the end of the seventeenth century to the middle of the nineteenth or thereabouts, the Island's principal claim to fame, or at least notoriety, was, in the eyes of the world, the contraband trade. In its general features the story of this trade is familiar to us all, but rich as it must have been in romance and adventure, few details appear to be available; at least I have not met with them in my reading of Manx literature.
It may, therefore, be worth while to bring before your notice some stories relating to the Island, extracted from a periodical called 'the Gallovidian,' devoted to the Southern Scottish Counties', * - especially as it is not likely that many of our members have seen them, and it would be interesting to know if any reminiscence of these or similar events lingers on our side of the Channel.
In 'Smuggling in the Solway Gallovidian,' 1907, the Editor, apparently Dr. Maxwell Wood, of Dumfries, quotes the following, as from ' Mackenzie ' (Prob. Rev. William Mackenzie's `History of Galloway,' 1841):-
' A young man of Ramsey, who was on the eve of being married to a respectable girl of that neighbourhood, contrary to the advice of his relations, resolved to run a few bags of fishing salt into some creek of the Solway, where he knew he would meet a ready market, and thereby raise a small sum to assist them in defraying the expenses of his wedding.
' In this ill-omened enterprise he was accompanied by the bride's brother only. They were steering up the Solway Firth, near Balcary Bay, where the Prince Ernest Augustus cutter, commanded by Sir John Reid, lay at anchor, when they were suddenly surprised by a voice ordering them, through a trumpet, to ' lay to.' The poor Manxmen, from not under-standing the English language distinctly, disregarding the order, kept on their way to Port o' Warren, a noted landing place; but they had not proceeded many yards till a ball from the cutter deprived the bridegroom of life. Panic-struck by such an instantaneous calamity, the surviving lad ran the boat ashore at the nearest point of Colvend, and took to flight. .
The corpse, being of little value as a prize, was thrown on the beach by the sailors; but the crazy scout, with a few bushels of salt on board, was taken in tow and carried away to the Custom House of Kirkcudbright. Near the spot where the bleeding corpse lay on the strand, several shipwrecked mariners had previously found a resting-place. and there the smuggler was likewise buried by pitying strangers, till, under a warrant from the Sheriff, the body was re-interred in the neighbouring churchyard of Colvend. Meanwhile the surviving smuggler made his way home to Ramsey with the intelligence of the calamity just related. The father of the deceased had been, by the temporary suspension of the illicit trade of the Island, which took place at the Revestment. reduced from a state of affluence to dependence for support on the last survivor of a numerous family, the account of whose death filled his heart with sorrow. . . . He resolved on removing the remains of his unfortunate son from Scotland to the family burying-place in the churchyard of Kirk Christ, Lezayre. The survivor of the. former unfortunate voyage, with some other relations, agreed to assist in this frantic undertaking, and what was more singular still, the distracted bride could not be dissuaded from appearing as chief mourner in the funeral group. Permission was obtained to remove the body from the churchyard of Colvend, and the mournful party embarked with it for Ramsey, but ere they had reached the Isle of Heston, a hurricane arose and a foaming breaker engulfed the fragile bark near the spot from whence the fatal shot was fired, that brought so many relations to a tragic end. . The Editor continues:-
' Sir John Reid, the commander of the cutter, was arraigned for the murder of the Manxmen before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, but acquitted of the charge. On the lonely shore of Colvend, a little below the farmhouse of Glenstocken, the Manxman's first grave is yet pointed out.
' At the mouth of the Urr, the headland of the Castle still stands out boldly, bearing on its summit the vestige of an old Norse fortress. Here, on January a, 1791, a smuggling vessel from the Isle of Man went ashore, and all hands were lost. One body only was cast up, that of Joseph Nelson, of Whitehaven, and that not until the following July. It was buried where it was found, and later his widow caused a stone to be erected, which may yet be seen in the immediate neighbourhood.'
A smuggling firm, Quirk, Clark, and Crain, is said to have built Balcary House, still standing on the shore of Auchencairn Bay, houses being erected, and farms rented. on the coast for the purpose of carrying on and further developing the traffic.
Somewhat in contrast to the tragedy of the previously-quoted tales is the story of a lugger from the Isle of Man which was surprised off the Mull of Galloway by Sir John Reid's cutter. The revenue vessel was close behind the smuggler when the latter turned into the harbour of the Isle of Whithorn. The cutter followed, but found, to the utter amazement of the crew, that no lugger was there! Taking advantage of a high tide, she had charged at the shallow over a bar of shingle, where no possible egress could have been imagined, and was now making for the English coast. ' When the tide receded, a few curious seamen at the Isle examined the hazardous route of the hugger in leaving the harbour, and found a track made by the keel of the vessel in the shingly bottom about 100 yards long. Several large stones had also been shifted.'
* Published quarterly by J. Maxwell & Son, Dumfries.