[From Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 3]
20 December, 1929.
P. M. C. KERMODE, F.S.A., SCOT.
Fifty years ago the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society held its first formal meeting, and it has suggested that I should take this opportunity of letting present members know how it came to be formed and how it has since developed. This seems but reasonable, for surely one of the responsibilities of old age that we should hand on to our juniors such information as we possess, and that have no other means of acquiring. It is only natural that we should think more of a Society or Institution of which we become members if we know something of its origin and growth and learn the work that it has done. In looking through old lists of our members I regret to find that we have no other now with us who saw the beginnings of this Society; the duty, therefore, naturally devolves upon myself.
I may say then that in my youth I had the good fortune to spend a part of my vacations in Staffordshire, and under the hospitable roof of an uncle by marriage, Dr. Garner, my eyes were opened to the constant attraction and enduring charm of Natural History in its various branches. It is interesting to recall that Robert Garner was the first student of the London University, where he was a favourite pupil of Sir Charles Bell. Like Edward Forbes, he was a naturalist born; in later life he came to be known as The Staffordshire Naturalist. While still a boy he became acquainted by sight with every bird, beast and flower for miles around his home at Longton and some reference is made to this in his own " Holiday Excursions of a Naturalist," published in 1867. In 1830 he went with a fellow student to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Cuvier and Geoffrey St. Hilaire. After a few years in London he settled in Stoke-upon-Trent. He helped to establish several Libraries and Institutions, including the North Staffordshirere Naturalists' Field Club and Archaeological Society, of which he was more than once elected President. His classical work, "The Natural History of the County of Stafford," was published in 1844. At early meetings of the British Association, Dr Garner had come across Edward Forbes, of whose scientific work he had the highest opinion. Following on a visit to my father at the old Rectory, Ballaugh, in 1878 - (Where he saw Forbes' early home and had conversations with men who remembered and had gone out with him in his dredgings around the coast) - he contributed an article on Professor Edward Forbes and his country to the " Midland Naturalist " indeed he was well acquainted with the Isle of Man, to which he devoted a chapter in " Holiday Excursions." With such a sympathetic and delightful companion, I began to realize that there were many branches of Natural History, to the study of any of which one might devote a lifetime. I got to know many active members of the Field Club, and was able to attend several of their meetings and some of their Summer Excursions, :gaining also an insight into their organization and administration of the Society, as well as the good work that it was doing. All this led me to think how pleasant it would be if we could form a Club or Society of somewhat similar character in the Isle of Man.
I do not now remember all with whom I spoke about it but my friend, John Christian Crellin, was one of the first. Then, I think, Dr. F. S. Tellet, Ramsey; Mr. T. K.Walton, Ballaugh; Rev. S. N. Harrison, Maughold, and M J.M.Cruikshank; others were well-known anglers and sportsmen. This took some time. In those days, it was not so easy to get about the island as it is now, and even the question of train fares had to be considered by me.
In 1876, Governor Loch had appointed a Commission to inquire into the nature of the monuments and antiquities of the island, with a view to seeing whether it was desirable to establish a public museum. Their first and only Report appeared in 1878. To some of us it seemed that these Commissioners in themselves constituted the nucleus of an Antiquarian Society and we wished to avoid any appearance of trespassing on their preserves and to confine our own activities to Natural History, particularly that of the Isle of Man. Having talked the matter over with some members of the Commission I went to see their Chairman, Mr. J. M. Jeffcott, High Baliff of Castletown; I found it was unlikely that anything more would be done by them. Mr. Jeffcott fully agreed that we should now form a Society to include both Natural History and Antiquities, as those who took an active interest in the one subject were the very people most interested in the other. He was unable at that time to accept the Chairmanship, but I am glad to say did so a few years later. We had now reached a stage where several people from all parts of the island favoured the idea of having such a Society, but no one would undertake the responsibility of action in the matter. About that time, just as I was looking, around for a naturalist of some standing to be our Chairman, I heard from Mr.R.W.O. Rutledge, Douglas, who, after reference to some birds seen by him, suggested that I should see Mr. Birchall, Derby Square, an Entomologist of repute, who had a good library and some valuable collections. I went to see him, and we had some interesting conversations. A neighbour of his, the. Rev. T. Talbot, and some others, came in, and we were able to talk the matter over, with the result that after some informal meetings we sent out a brief notice calling upon those interested to come together and form a Society for the Study of Natural History and Antiquities in the Isle of Man.
This led to our first formal meeting which was held in. Birchhall's house on the 23rd December, 1879. There were present: Mr. Birchall, Mr. J. C. Crellin, Mr. Thomas Grindley and myself, and the former was elected President to act until March, which, from the point of view of the world of life, we considered the most suitable month for the naturalists' year to begin. If our members were few, and we were unpractical people, at least we were in earnest and were blessed with enthusiasm. We agreed to avoid advertisement, but to let our Society become known by its works and judged on its merits, that so its growth, if slow, should be natural, and its foundations firm. I may say here that from the start we were fortunate in having the support of the local press, and are particularly indebted to the late Mr. J. A. Brown, of the Isle of Man Times, who early became a member.
At a meeting in February, Mr. Grindley read a Paper on the Study of Antiquities in the Isle of Man, and, on the 22nd March, we held what we regarded as our first Annual meeting, at 3, Osborne Terrace. There were present, Rev.Talbot, Rev. S. N. Harrison, E. Birchall and P. M. C. Kermode. Mr. Birchall was elected President and your present President became the first Secretary. The President gave a short Address, which was published in the small volume of our Transactions that we were able to bring out in 1888. In April, Dr. R. Garner was elected our first honorary member, and six more ordinary members were elected. Various exhibits added to the interest of this meeting, and we were in hopes that at most of our future meetings members would bring something to show and to discuss. Mr. Talbot read a Paper on Druids in relation to the Isle of Man.
The first Excursion of the Society was made to Peel Castle on 24th May, 1880. The wild flowers and the birds of the district were noticed, but the special object of meeting was to hear from Mr. Birchall about a rare species of Moth, the caterpillars of which feed on thrift or sea-pink. unfortunately, as this came to be known to professional collectors across the water, Peel and other districts were hunted ruthlessly year by year till this interesting aegeria,became extinct, as other forms of wild life are continuing to do throughout the British Isles.
The Transactions referred to, give Annual Reports from which members may learn the early activities of the Society. Our meetings, held alternately in Douglas and Ramsey, became more interesting and were better attended. In 1889 we began to publish a Journal, Yn Lioar Manninagh, which besides reports of our Proceedings and Transactions, was to include other notes and news on Natural Histor:y and Antiquarian subjects. This continued till April, 1905,after which its place was taken by a less ambitious volume of Proceedings, and this has continued since, the last number having been issued recently. Unfortunately, the question of cost has always been serious, and owing to this difficulty it has been impossible to have our publications out with any punctuality. .So much depends upon it, that our most pressing need just now is the provision for our future publications which is essential if the Society is to continue and to preserve its status among kindred institutions. This leads me to recall that in 1880 I joined the British Association and attended its Jubilee meeting at York. As I became acquainted with some of its leading men, I heard and was able to take a part in discussions on a question then raised, viz., that of associating local Societies in some way with the Association. When eventually a scheme was formulated, it included a condition that such an associated Society must regularly publish Proceedings and Transactions, and, as we were doing so I was able to have our small Society included with larger and more Important institutions in the first list, without having to be formally elected. This gave us a certain standing and position and has been an advantage to us ever since, e.g. in the help we got when excavating for the remains of the Great Deer.
Members would, I feel sure, be interested to hear some thing, about those, no longer with us, who conducted original research or in other ways rendered special service to the Society, and it is but fitting that a tribute should be paid by us, preserving the memory of such men as E. Birchall, A.W.Moore, Rev. Canon Savage, Deemster Gill, A. Haviland, Rev. Canon Harrison, J. C. Crellin, H. S. Clarke, G.A.Holt, and G. W. Wood, to mention only a few of our ordinary members. Among Honorary members, Sir William Herdman's name alone will add lustre to our Society ,and to it must be added those of Miss F. A. Ormerod (whose work on injurious insects has made her name a household word among agriculturists and gardeners), G. A. Holt (who helped us so greatly in our Botanical section), G:W. Lamplugh, and Sir William Boyd-Dawkins. But, what they bave done for us is on record, and I may safely leave to younger members the pleasant duty of recalling it.
I have said enough for the present occasion, and will now conclude with a brief reference to what has been done that is of general interest to the Island and our own community. We have at: several times had visits from Societies across the water Besides Excursions from the British Association when meeting in Southport 1883, or in Liverpool 1896, we have been glad to receive the North Staffordshire Naturalists, the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (1894), the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and, last Summer, the Cambrian Archaeological Association.. Such visits, besides being so helpful to ourselves, cannot fail to be of advantage to the whole Island. As regards our work, a matter of real importance has been the preparation of lists which are as necessary a preliminary to the study of those matters within our scope as the collection of specimens as the building up of a museum. We have two branches the Archaeological and the Natural History, and, in the first we now have in the printer's hand a carefully revised List of Antiquities of the Island. Of Natural History, we early published a List of Minerals, and at various times Lists of Algae, lichens, Mosses, Ferns and Flowering Plants, Molluscs, Beetles, Moths and Butterflies, Birds and Animals. We hope to have our Flower List thoroughly revised this year and edited by our member, Mr. C. I. Paton. For Mr. Hartley's very valuable List of Lichens we have arranged with the North Western Naturalist, who have generously agreed to bring it out in their Magazine, as they did for us with Dr.Bailey's list of Beetles. It is for this reason that we have a note on our Circular calling upon our members to take copies of this Journal, which it is hoped they will do at once. The Society has also had a small but honourable share in the promotion of legislation which has been to the advantage of the Island. In 1885 a Committee waited upon Governor Walpole, who agreed to take steps which resulted in the Wild Birds Protection Act, 1887; and another Committee was able to persuade him, not without some hesitation, and mainly with the aid of our former Attorney-General, Sir James Gell, to have provision made for the protection of some of our structural Antiquities. This came to be included in the Act of 1886 constituting the Manx Museum, one consequence being that unlike any other region or district, the Museum trustees became also the official guardians of our Ancient Monuments.
The Museum itself has of course benefited by the activities of our Society. Its working library has received some valuable and very useful additions, and many of its collections have been added to. While the Antiquarian department has been greatly enriched, so also in the Natural History department. Dr. Bailey's very valuable collection of Beetles was the gift of the Society, the Moths and Butterflies, the Birds, the Flowers are almost entirely due to what we have given, the fine example of the Megaceros (mounted, 1898), which we sought for and recovered from a marl-pit near S. John's in September, 1897, is in itself striking and lasting memorial to the influence for good and the constant activities of our Society. It is just this influence, which is felt throughout the whole Island, that to my mind is the most important and praiseworthy effect of our united efforts. I cannot help feeling that as a Society we had done very little real work, and this may be accounted for in great measure by special local conditions. Still we have done something, and but for us it would have remained undone. The question now immediately before our members is " Have we justified the existence of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society? "