[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #3 1939]



Mr P. W. Caine.

In 1805 the Rev William Fitzsimmons, a clergyman who was a Manx landowner and a member of the House of Keys, wrote a history of the Island, the manuscript of which is preserved in the Manx Museum. It was quoted by Mr A. W. Moore in his booklet " Douglas 100 Years Ago." The author draws a gloomy contrast between Douglas at the time of writing and half a century earlier. In 1755, he declares, Douglas was an abode of decorum and piety. For instance

" Wines and spirits were plentiful and cheap, but were in no request. Public-houses were deserted, and those who kept them starved.

" The police were managed with so much vigilance and activity that public order was never interrupted ; a riot was a prodigy.

" The people were so friendly, so peaceable, so honest, so wise, that a cause seldom went before the Deemster in a month." Mr Fitzsimmons was an able and honest man, but when Mr Moore reproduced this story, he felt bound to add that it was " evidently grossly exaggerated." Contemporary accounts, and the official records, enable us to conjure up, in Douglas and the other Manx ports, busy, noisy, huddled clusters of dwellings and warehouses and ships in harbour-very animated and picturesque, but not exhibiting that perfection of which a recent speaker said that even if it could be attained, it would make life so monotonous that it could not be endured.

In the heart of the eighteenth century, between 1751 and 1761, the Governor of the Isle of Man was Basil Cochrane. The principal Court Roll of the Island, in which are recorded not only the final judgments in lawsuits but the administrative decisions taken by the Lord's governor and the Lord's officers, is called the Liber-Scaccarius, or the Book of the Court of Exchequer. What follows is taken from that book, to which I have again had access by the courtesy of the Clerk of the Rolls.

The outstanding factor in Manx commercial life at that time was smuggling. To begin with, the contraband was brought into the Isle of Man openly, paying the comparatively light Manx duties, and the illegality began when the produce of the Mediterranean and the East Indies and America was run across to England and Scotland. After a while the bold smugglers saw no reason why they should pay the Manx duties either, and the result was that goods which had not been "entered" were constantly being seized, in the name of the Lord of the Isle, by the revenue officers, styled "searchers." It was hoped that the demolition of the older part of Douglas would reveal the secret passages which loom so large in tradition, but the work was done so hurriedly, towards its end, that it is to be feared that the opportunity for very important discoveries has been lost.

Here is a typical record of the duties which regularly fell upon the Court of Exchequer:

"At an Exchequer Court holden at Castle Rushen, the 9th May, 1751.

"Upon hearing Ewan Callister, Assistant Deputy Searcher at Douglas, upon a seizure of a piece of coarse Irish Linnen cloath about 23 yards, and a piece of coarse Huckaback about the same measure, belonging to one Jones, who is long since gone off the Island without making any claims to the said two pieces of linnen-being run on shore without any entry out of the boat of one Jefferson in a clandestine manner about Michaelmas last-and the said Callister in default of anyone appearing to claime having at this Court craved a condemnation of the said seizure. Therefore the Court doth adjudge and decree that the said two pieces of linnen are a lawful seizure.

Dan. Mylrea. John Taubman."

The signatories were the two Deemsters, who at this date were joint Deputy-Governors,.

The smuggling took place, apparently, by whole cargoes run ashore secretly, usually in the night-the nearest thing to a "smuggler's cave" which is found mentioned in the records being " Ballaugh burn foot"; by quantities in excess of what had been duly entered; and by the concealment within parcels entered in the name of one person, of casual items belonging to another. Sometimes the detected smuggler, or the inhabitant in whose hands the goods had been seized, would make no attempt to claim the articles, but would regard the seizure as "all in the day's work"; sometimes he would claim unsuccessfully, and proffer some plausible or piteous excuse.

Listen, for instance, to a tale of woe from Hannah Collins. She was in a fair way of supporting herself by an honest industry, but to frustrate this her intention, " your poor petitioner" had the misfortune to buy three dozen of children's play books or " primmers " from one of the mariners belonging to a vessel lying in the port of Douglas, which were seized by Captain Paul Bridson, the deputy searcher. She had really imagined that they were entered by the person she bought them from, and she asked that they be admitted to entry now. But an unsympathetic Court adjudged the books to be a lawful seizure.

It would be in accordance with human nature to supposethat these seizures were sometimes resented, and, when the circumstances seemed favourable, resisted. In January, 1756,. several Ramsey men were fined either for taking part in a riot, not coming to the aid of the Commander of the port when called. upon, or refusing to help in taking the rioters to prison.

On the 24th August, 1761, John Voast and Robert Kneale, of Ramsey, were called upon as a guard to take care of a man named Kelly, who had taken part in a riot. Having the prisoner in their charge for two hours, and the Captain not appearing with further orders, " by the persuations of the said Kelly, your petitioners went with him to a public-house and called for some liquor, when the said Kelly drank the same off and got through. the door." The unjailorlike jailors informed the Captain, and begged him to come and help them to recapture the prisoner. The Captain not only refused, but clapped a guard upon them instead.

In July, 1759, Ramon Abello, of the city of Barcelona, but for some months past resident in Douglas, went to the house of a soldier named John Erskine, to demand some shirts belonging, to a sailor in his employ. Erskine " collered " and struck him. Some time later, while it was dark, he was seized in the street by two soldiers and held by the arms while Erskine struck him several times with a club or stick. He was also dragged to the: fort, and confined in its dungeon for nearly five hours. The Court, besides fining Erskine and ordering him to pay damages,, dismissed him from the service.

On the 31st October, 1759 (a Sunday), four members of the Ramsey watch came to a public-house at twelve o'clock at night.. and attempted to break the door in. The publican having made some resistance, one of them struck him with a battle-axe or halbert. The Court found the watch guilty, and fined them each 3.

Clashes sometimes took place between the revenue officers of the Isle of Man and the officers and crews of ships engaged in protecting the revenues of the King. The Duke of Atholl's jurisdiction in the waters of the Isle of Man extended so far, says the historian Waldron, who was a commissioner appointed by the British Government to observe what was going on in the Island, that "the master of a ship has no more to do than to, watch his opportunity of coming within the piles, and he is clear from any danger from the King's officers." " I myself," he adds, " had notice of a stately pirate that was steering her course into this harbour, and would have boarded her before she got within the piles, but for want of being able to get sufficient help;.could not execute my design. Her cargo was indico, mastic, raisins of the sun, and other very rich goods, which I had the mortification to see sold to the traders of Douglas without the least duty paid to His, Majesty."

King's officers who had chased a suspected vessel and had been too late to prevent her reaching harbour may occasionally have allowed their mortification to get the better of them, and have acted in excess of their legal rights. One such incident seems to be related in a petition from the prison in Peel Castle by three members of the crew of the Carlingford barge, of which Mr Richard Lewis was the principal officer. On the 14th July, 1752, the barge gave chase to a wherry which was running into Peel Harbour at about twelve o'clock at night. After coming to anchor in the bay, Mr Lewis ordered out a small boat, with the petitioners on board, and on coming into the harbour they found the wherry's small boat full of casks. They took this cargo out to the barge, came back to the wherry, and loaded their own small boat with tobacco and other goods. But they were stopped by Captain Murray, the searcher at Peel, and put into prison.

The Governor observed that " the committing of a depredation within any port of this Isle, being not only a breach of the law and prerogatives thereof, but also an infringement upon the rights and privileges of the Lord, deserves exemplary punishment." But as the petitioners had acted upon the orders of their superior officer, he released them on giving a bond to appear at the next Court of General Gaol Delivery.

On October 14th, 1758, Captain William Lidderdale, Commander at Peel Castle, deposed that on the longboat of one of His Majesty's tenders landing at Peel, one Charles Gordon headed a mob and seized a boat. On the Captain endeavouring to quell the riot, Gordon, with others, obstructed him, and assaulted one of His Grace's soldiers who was assisting in quelling the riot.

The valiant soldier who was assaulted, James Clarke, added that " seeing so great a mob with the said Gordon, he thought it not safe to dispute there, and so retired home."

The violence was directed against the King's officers as well as the Lord's, it will be seen. On the 21st April, 1759, Mr John Shortland, Commander of a King's cutter, wrote to the Governor complaining of the treatment his pilot had received from some young men in Douglas. "As he was coming from the playhouse in order to go on board the cruiser cutter under my command, he was almost deprived of his senses with several cutts on his head and body. I was very near being used in the same manner."

" I hope," says Captain or Lieutenant Shortland, plaintively, '" you will do me all the justice possible, as the men, I believe, had made no attempt to use any people belonging to this Island with any ill-treatment whatever. I do assure you I put in here with no intent to impress any men."

The reference to the playhouse at Douglas is interesting, as it has been supposed that the first theatre was established by Captain Tennison in 1788. For this offence, a number of mariners were arrested. I give their names-Christopher Farran, Lawrence Farran, John Hall, Patrick Cregan, Patrick Sweetman, and Joshua Hoare-to show that the maritime population of the Island had become somewhat cosmopolitan. Similar exotic surnames are found among the participants in the riot at Peel.

Sometimes the naval men themselves, or the crews of privateers authorised to seize enemy ships, were the aggressors. On the 5th November, 1776, Richard McNally and Robert Forbes, of Douglas, alleged that Captain Smith, the master of a private sloop then in Douglas harbour, came with his crew into an inn where they (McNally, Forbes, and others) were, and attacked them with swords and cutlasses. " Such was the madness of the said persons, that they struck one of their swords upon your petitioner's head, and stole or took away his wig."

On the 15th August, 1750, Captain Matthias Christian, Commander at Ramsey, reported that a few days earlier Mr John Allen, a Douglas merchant, came to his house with an invitation to dine from Captain George Dowe, of the sloop "Sincerity," belonging to the custom-house at Whitehaven, and then in Ramsey Harbour. When he got into the Captain's cabin the Captain said he heard that his men were close confined in Castle Rushen. He and his mate, James Gordon, presented pistols to Captain Christian's breast, and, with terrible oaths, said that for the turn of a shilling they would blow his brains out, and that he would not be permitted to go ashore until the sloop's men were restored. The Captain also said he had his guns levelled at Captain Christian's house in order to batter it even to the ground. After a while he said that if Captain Christian agreed to go ashore and take one of the pistols-[apparently in order that they might fight a duel]-that would end the matter. The mate said they would take him to Carlisle, and see him hanged at Tyburn. After keeping him three hours aboard the sloop, they exacted from him a bond of 500 that he would appear at Carlisle at the next Assize.

Supplementing this account, Mr Allen said that after the bond was signed, Captain Dowe told him that he intended to do some meritorious thing by force in the Isle of Man, to gain a reputation with the Commissioners of the Regency.

The incident which led to Captain Dowe's men being imprisoned took place on the 26th June. On that date, according the information of Hugh Read. the crew of the "Sincerity" boarded a wherry on which Read was a hand, with firearms, cutlasses, and bangers, and said they would cut the wherry's, crew to pieces. They brought the wherry alongside the sloop, and Captain Dowe, coming out of the cabin, ordered the wherry's. crew to come aboard. One of them, Patrick Cregan, was slower than the rest. and the Captain struck him with his hanger. He said he would not be satisfied until he ran his sword through their hearts' blood. After they had been kept aboard for three hours and had been threatened with irons, they were allowed to go.

This same Captain Dowe, on the 20th June, 1750, made signals of distress, and was answered by a Ramsey boatman named John Kerruish. As it was blowing hard, and the " Sincerity " had not sufficient hands to work the shin, Kerruish and his crew were prevailed upon to go with them to Whitehaven. But on returning to Ramsey, he was made prisoner by Captain Christian for carrying himself and his crew off the Island without having the Governor's pass! His boat was also placed under arrest. But the Deputy-Governors removed the arrest and remitted the forfeiture.

This last incident illustrates another late of the period, that no one might leave without a passport. If a master mariner carried a stranger who had not the pass, he was liable not only to a fine, but to the payment of the stranger's debts. A frequent excuse was that the person carried was not a traveller, but was, temporarily one of the ship's hands.

One of the principal cares of government was to prevent the spread of the plague. Time and time again the Secretary of State transmits letters to the Duke of Atholl informing him that the plague has broken out in Sicily, the Levant, Barbary, or Spain, and requesting him to take steps to prevent the infection being brought by vessels from the Mediterranean. In a typical order made by Governor Cochrane on the 16th October, 1751, it is recited that vessels from the Levant are forbidden to enter, any ports in the British Isles without making their quarantine for forty days. The Governor takes the necessary measures for the safety of the Isle of Man.

" On the appearance of any ship or vessel in the bays of this, Isle," the Governor commands, " the Captain and the Commander of the garrison of any town, and the deputy searcher in each district, is to go out in a boat and hail such ship on the windward side, and strictly examine the master and two of the principal hands, upon their oaths, whence they came? what their cargo consists of? where they- took in? what ports (if any) have they touched on in their voyage? whether they met with any ships or vessels while at sea, or took in any goods or passengers from them? what sick persons have they on board?"

After this examination, the ships were to be ordered to go either to Ramsey Bay or Derbyhaven, and perform their quarantine. The master was to give a full account of his cargo, with his bill of loading and what other papers he had, which were to be taken to the Captain or searcher at the quarantine port. Before receiving these papers, the examining officer was to dip them in salt water or vinegar. The ship was to fly an ensign at the foretopmasthead to signify that it was in quarantine, and a note was to be given the master that upon signalling, he might be supplied with provisions or relief in any other necessity " so far as consists with the health and security of the people of the Isle of Man."

When the quarantine had been performed, the Captain and the two principal hands had to take another oath before the Captain or Searcher, in the presence of some of the principal inhabitants of the town. Then, they might proceed to land the cargo.

" For the better prevention of the infection being brought in," the Governor further commands, " I appoint a strict watch and ward to be forthwith kept upon the coasts of the Isle both night and day. If the watch finds any ship's crew, passengers or sailors attempting to land without previous examination, they are to oppose them with all force of arms."

The quarantine order was frequently disregarded, and it can be understood what an inconvenience it must have been to a ship, at the closE of an already long voyage, to be compelled to suffer the risks of the weather for nearly seven weeks longer. Though some of the excuses offered are decidedly thin, it can be believed that unlettered men sometimes broke the law undesignedly.

A petition of William Lewin, boatmaster, on behalf of himself and his crew, shows that " while going to Port Iron yesterday for the herring fishery, your petitioner met with Charles Lace's sloop from Liverpool. The said Lace said that he was going to Ramsey, and had two passengers to land at Douglas. Your petitioner not expecting any danger, as Lace is a trader to and from this Isle, took the passengers on board and landed them at Douglas, but was then obliged to ride quarantine in Douglas Bay, having the gentlemen's trunks aboard. As your petitioner and his crew, being ignorant, have forfeited your Honour's pleasure, and as their lives are in dispair in case a tempest should arise in the Bay, as they are not permitted to land, and also the gentlemen's trunks are in danger of being damaged on your petitioner's boat, which is a small fishing yoall, they humbly petition your Honour to commiserate their condition, and give them an opportunity of coming on shore, and your petitioner and his crew shall take care never to be guilty of such demeanour for the future."

On the 5th September, 1759, Captain Edward Christian, Commander at Ramsey, reported to the Governor as follows:" Yesterday arrived in this bay a snow from Barcelona, named the Hope, bound for Peel.... So soon as she made her appearance, I ordered a boat out to acquaint them not to attempt coming in, and the vessel in consequence of such orders came afterwards to anchor. An hour afterwards they hoist out their boat, and the master came to the end of the Kay, where I spoke to him. He declared he came from Barcelona, from which place he had a clean bill of health, which was examined and approved by the Governor at Gibraltar, and that he had nine weeks' passage, and had met with a French privateer, who put some English prisoners aboard him. He complained he had spent his sails, and wanted provisions, upon which necessaries were given him, and he was ordered off without coming on shore, until your Honour's pleasure was known. However, this morning, it blowing hard at South-East in upon the shore, notwithstanding positive instructions given him, and the wind not so much inshore but what they might have cleared the Point of Aire, he slipped and ran into this harbour, which it was not possible to prevent. However, I have ordered strict guard upon them night and day, until your Honour's pleasure can be known."

The Governor's pleasure was that the vessel should be ordered out of port again and obliged to go to the place appointed for quarantine.

Captain Paul Bridson reports (in very crude handwriting and quaint spelling) how the same gale was felt at Douglas. "Yesterday "-i.e. the 5th September-" upon the tyde it blew extronary fresh, with a great raine and a great swell in the sea. A Spanish ship came in upon us, could not keep her off. Examined her and found she took her loding in at Barcelona, wich she must a come through the Meretianian. We had twelve men on the watch. Last night, the rivers being so high yesterday, there was no one could travell. We continue still the watch until your Honour's pleasure is known."

That remark, "there was no one could travell," may mean that no one could cross the river at Douglas to take a message to the Governor at Castletown.

Another misfortune to a vessel during storm is related by Thomas Arthur and John Taubman, merchants. A Dutch ship called the Elizabeth, bound from Saloo in Spain with brandies and wines for the petitioners, went to Ramsey for quarantine, but during the first thirty days was driven by repeated gales to a place at the north side of Ramsey harbour. There happened to be an "uncommon great fresh water flood," which undermined the bed of gravel and sand on which the vessel lay, and caused her to turn over. " By which," say the petitioners, " she is considerably damaged, and the cargo greatly hurted, inasmuch that for several hours after they pumped nothing but clear brandy." They ask to be permitted to discharge the " upper tire " of the vessel on the little island lying at the north side of Ramsey harbour. As the bank mentioned was remote from any inhabited or frequented place, and was surrounded by each tide, the Governor granted the request.

The Douglas merchants of the eighteenth century included some Jews. One trader whose goods were seized was named Solomon Abrahams. And here is the sad story of Jacob Osorio Davids, of Douglas, merchant:

" On the 12th July (1761), as your petitioner was walking in company with an eminent merchant from Amsterdam, he was assaulted by a man whom to his knowledge he had never before seen, who cracked a whip and held it above your petitioner's head, with dreadful curses and imprecations, swearing he would kill your petitioner and all the Jews. Your petitoner fled for protection to Mr Yerbury's house, but was pursued on horseback by the said man.... As your petitioner entered Mr Yerbury's house, the said Francis Moore followed him into the courtyard and made a violent blow at your petitioner's servant Samuel. Your petitioner's servant entered the hou>e and locked the door, but the said Francis Moore remained a considerable time before the door, and aroused a vast crowd. . . This will prevent your petitioner from attending to his necessary business on the quay, as the is afraid to venture out of his house, being very apprehensive that constant attempts will be made to take away his life."

The zealous Aryan was fined eight shillings and fourpence, and ordered to give bonds for his good behaviour. From the fact that "your petitioner's servant" is given a Christian name only, one is perhaps entitled to assume that he was a negro slave.

This picture of brawling in the towns is not to be set against a background of innocent rusticity. At the end of every year's volume of the Liber Scaccarius, there are lists of presentments, of bail bonds, and of fines inflicted for assault and battery and for provoking language. The presentments numbered hundreds in the year-606, to take the worst case, in 1760. The majority of them run like this:

A.B., coroner of presents C.D. that by "virtue of Mr. Deemster 's token he charged him, "to appear at the suit of E.F., but did not appear, therefore stands in mercy of a fine."

Sometimes the offence was that of preventing the Coroner from seizing goods under a judgment. To use the phraseology of the period, the offender "stopped pawn." Thirty or forty large pages of small manuscript will be found filled with presentments by the coroner, the lockman, the deputy searcher, the serjeant of the barony or the Abbey lands, and in a few cases, simply by the "serjeant of Skinsco." Skinsco is a district in Lonan which formed part of the Abbey lands. The power of imprisonment was also vested in the vicars-general-the two country clergymen who not only granted probates of wills, but heard all suits against deceadants' estates.

These offences imply widespread contempt of court - and very frequent litigation-but they do not imply violence. Yet the Lord's forester claiming an unidentified animal. or a farmer bringing a neighbour's strays into the pound, was sometimes set upon and the animals were rescued.

A common entry is that in which the Attorney General lays an information against someone for selling ale without a licence. The penalty for the fugitive from justice was to be proclaimed an outlaw. On July 5th, 1758, during the proceedings of the Tynwald Court, John Kelly, of Ballaugh, who was '-violently suspected" of having stolen a sheep, was called to come and abide his trial. He did not appear and "therefore he, the said John Kelly, is by the authority of this Court deemed, declared, judged, and proclaimed an outlaw, his body and goods to stand at the Lord's mercy, according to the laws of this Isle and the Lord's prerogative in such cases." Immediately afterwards, a large number of creditors lodged claims against his estate.

Though the Isle of Man had the same sanguinary criminal laws as obtained in England, they were administered very mercifully. The felon in danger of hanging could escape his punishment by taking an oath to transport himself to America "or some other foreign country," and never to set foot on the Island again unless, while on ship, he was driven there by stress of weather. It was a voluntary, unofficial transportation. This oath was taken many times during the period now under examination, and was sometimes the means of escaping the punishment of public whipping. One offender had been ordered to be whipped not only in the several market towns. but at the next Tynwald Court, and he pleaded that he could not endure the shame of it.

It has often been stated that during the greater part of the eighteenth century only three men were executed in the Isle of Man-one for murder and two for burglary. But there is the further case of John Corlett, of Castletown, hanged for wife murder.

Here are some glimpses into the towns, in respect to their appearance and sanitation. In 1752, Sir Quayle Somerville, Baronet, represents in a petition to the Deputy Governors, Deemsters Mylrea (or McYlrea) and Taubman, that "there is a small passage, three feet wide in the broadest part, running betwixt the end of your petitioner's garden in Douglas, and the middingstead of iijd. rent belonging to your petitioner, which adjoins the gable of Mr William Murray's new house, which middingstead is of no manner of use to your petitioner as it is at present, nor is he able to improve it or make it any more comodious for his other concerns. Being void and open to the street and neighbourhood, it is constantly full of dung and. filth, and extremely noisome to the publick, by which means, and by the narrowness and ruggedness of the said passage, no cart or other carriage can come that way, so that it is a manifest nuisance instead of a conveniency." He proposes an alteration which would widen those passages before they turned into the main street. The Deemsters and other officers of the Council visited the place, and ordered the Great Enauest to be convened. The Enquest of Garff. for at that time the parish of Onchan, which included the town of Douglas, was in the sheading of Garff, and not Middle, approved the alteration.

The amenities of Douglas are also made manifest in the opposing petitions of George Cowle and his neighbours in the "Sandside." Cowle had rented a shed from one, Mr Crab, in order to store tobacco, but the tobacco proving "worse than Mr Crab expected," he proceeded to burn it for the sake of the ashes. Thereupon arose such an "unnatural and insufferable smoak and stiffling" that the neighbours declared that thev could not abide in their houses by day or night. To protect themselves against such "unneighbourly and unchristianlike act," they presented a petition against him, and the usual procedure followed of his being made a prisoner in Castle Rushen until he gave bail to appear at the hearing of the case.

From some proceedings taken in June, 1755, it appears that the Governor had ordered that the quay at Douglas should be 21 feet at its narrowest part, and since William Moore held land within this margin, had awarded him a remission of Lord's rent. But Moore persisted in erecting a building which left only twelve feet, and the supervisors of the harbour had him fined for his contempt.

In Ramsey. also, steps were taken to prevent the holders of small intacks from erecting their buildings irregularly, and in such a way as to block the passage to the harbour.

In 1765-four years after the departure of Governor Cochrane, and ten years after the date of which Mr Fitzsimmons wrote the British Government concluded with the Duke of Atholl the forced sale of his sovereign rights in the Isle of Man, and passed through Parliament a Bill designed to secure the effectual suppression of Manx smuggling.

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