Contributed to the Proceedings by C. L. BERRY


(Mr. Berry, who lives in Wakefield, is the husband of one of Mr. McHutchin’s descendants)

JOHN McHUTCHIN was Manx by birth and by maternal descent. The family records tell little or nothing of his grandfather McHutcheon (so the name is said then to have been spelled) except that he was of Luce Bay, Wigtown, Scotland. His great-great-great-grandson Mr. George W. S. T. McHutchin has his portrait in oils, and a portrait of the son, the only known issue, Gilbert McHutchin.

Family records give Gilbert McHutchin’s birth-date as 1760. This, however, is contradicted by evidence in the Manx Museum, as is the statement in Mona’s Herald that he came from Scotland to the Isle of Man ‘about the year 1785’ . There are preserved in the Museum a score of receipts signed by Gilbert McHutchin on various dates between 1766 and 1786.

During those years he was agent or factor to Sir George Moore of Ballamoore, Speaker of the House of Keys. According to Mr. Megaw, Director of the Manx Museum and Library, Gilbert McHutchin 'was more or less Sir George’s right-hand man. He appears to have had charge over all Sir George’s property, including the repairs, collection of rents, etc. He also had charge over certain monetary transactions of Sir George’s.’

Gilbert McHutchin married in 1785 Catherine Dawson of Peel, a member of an old Manx family whose records date back to the sixteenth century. He died at Peel in According to the news-paper quoted above he was Constable at Peel in the 1st years of his life.

Besides two sons, Gilbert McHutchin had two daughters. The younger, Margaret McHutchin, married John Gell, and was the mother of Sir James Gell, C.V.O. , the distinguished Manx lawyer and Clerk of the Rolls. John Gell died in the early years of his marriage, and his son James was brought up by his uncle, John McHutchin, and thus with numerous McHutchin cousins.

John McHutchin was born at Peel in 1788 and educated at Peel Grammar School. He was indentured to Mr. Thomas Stowell, Clerk of the Rolls, under whom he studied law. According to Mr. A. W. Moore’s Manx Worthies, ‘his ability was so marked and his progress so rapid that Lieutenant-Governor Smelt appointed him his secretary before he had finished his student’s career. ‘ He was admitted to the Manx Bar in 1808. He afterwards moved to Douglas, where he practised as an advocate. According to Mona’s Herald :—

‘The first circumstances that brought him into notice as a man of talents was a trial had before John Cosnahan Esqre, then Water Bailiff [Judge of the Admiralty Court] wherein Mr. William Maddrell (of the firm of Gibbons and Maddrell) and Kewley, the Harbour-master, were parties litigant. Mr. McHutchin was one of the advocates on this trial; and he displayed such acuteness and legal acumen in the nice questions involved in the controversy that the Water Bailiff declared on coming out of court, ‘ ‘That young man will rise to the head of his profession on the Island".’

He was appointed to the Seneschal’s Office in Douglas in 1810, and appointed High Bailiff of Douglas and Seneschal by the Duke of Atholl in 1816. The Prince Regent appointed him Resident Attorney-General in 1817, and Second Deemster in 1819. According to the Manx Sun, Mr. McHutchin ‘had a stern appearance on the Bench, but impressive and imposing as befits a Deemster. ‘ Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. John McHutchin show them to have been a singularly handsome couple. In his new office ‘Mr. McHutchin was regarded as leader of the Duke’s political party and incurred the odium attached to it; but, unlike other public figures of his time, his integrity was never questioned, and he was considered the ablest Manx authority during his Deemstership. ‘ My informant on this point is Mr. David Craine, to whom I am indebted in this study.

Among Home Office papers is a letter from the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Dr. George Murray, in 1819 : —

‘McHutchin wants Deemsters’ fees to be abolished. He justly observes that no Deemster can resist the temptation of continuancy and all the abominations that at present exist, and which create and encourage litigation, when the fees constitute so large a portion of their emoluments.’

There is also a letter from John McHutchin expressing the opinion credited to him by the Bishop.

John McHutchin was appointed Clerk of the Rolls by King George IV in September 1821. In offering him the latter appointment Mr. Hobhouse, Under-Secretary of State, wrote on behalf of the Home Secretary (Lord Sidmouth) to Mr. McHutchin on 4th August, 1821 : —‘Lord Sidmouth, taking into consideration the importance of the office of Clerk of the Rolls in the Isle of Man, is desirous of securing to the inhabitants of the Island the benefits of the most able lawyer to fill the situation and in looking around him he thinks he cannot so well serve the Island as by recommending you to His Majesty. He therefore desires me to ask whether it will be agreeable to you to be so recommended.’

As Clerk of the Rolls Mr. McHutchin was the Governor’s principal assessor in the performance of his judicial duties both in equity and in law. From 1817 he was ex officio a. Member of the Insular Council.

‘It is not too much to say that from 1821 to 1847 Mr. McHutchin was the principal and constant adviser of the Governor in the administration of the Government of the Island, in which position it was always publickly acknowledged that the Governor could not have had as adviser one more experienced in insular affairs or one more safe and judicious.’

So wrote his nephew and ultimate successor, Sir James Gell, in 1878. Right up to his death in 1847, although it had ceased to be part of his duties, Mr. McHutchin drafted most of the public Bills submitted by the Governor to the insular Legislature.

In 1827, in connexion with the transfer of Manx property from the Duke of Atholl to the Crown, Mr. W. Courtenay (afterwards Earl of Devon) visited the Island on behalf of the British Government. He enquired about the Insular charities, of which no information was generally available. At Mr. Courtenay’s request, Mr. McHutchin (Clerk of the Rolls) and Mr. George Quirk (Water Bailiff) compiled and published a complete and most valuable record of all the charities in the Island.

Mr. McHutchin was ex officio a Trustee of Bishop Barrow’s Charity. According to Sir James Gell : —‘Mr. McHutchin was the chief promoter of the scheme for the establishment of King William’s College in connexion with the Trust; a scheme which was successfully carried out, mainly by the exertions of Mr. McHutchin.’

Mr. A. W. Moore records that in 1844 Mr. McHutchin was a member of a Commission which reported that Castle Rushen was not suitable as a jail. He was one of the organisers of the erection of the fine memorial to Governor Smelt in Castletown market place. He also collected £60 to pay for the portrait of Smelt which is now in the Manx Museum.

In his Manx Worthies, Mr. Moore concludes his note on John McHutchin thus : —

‘Though a very able lawyer, perhaps his greatest claim to distinction is the fact that, during the long and bitter dispute between the Duke of Atholl and the Keys, he was the only person who held the entire confidence of both sides, so that his services were very valuable.’The following tribute was paid to Mr. McHutchin by his nephew Sir James Gell in a letter of 13th May 1900 to his cousin, the Revd. Mark Wilks MacHutchin : —

‘Many thanks for your congratulations on my appointment as Clerk of the Rolls . . . It has been a matter of much gratification to me that I have been able to follow in your dear father’s foot-steps as to the offices which I have held but I have not been able to attain to his eminence in legal knowledge and ability and his skill in the administration of public affairs. In this respect he was far above all others here. It was so acknowledged by all. In my present position I feel that I am indebted to him. My desire when a boy was to go to sea, but he would not listen to me — he did not actually say anything in opposition to my wishes but he kept me at school, and when the proper time came he told me that he wished me to be a lawyer and asked me to take a place in the Rolls Office. How much of Manx law I learnt when sitting with him after dinner. He encouraged me to talk and to ask him questions. I am always sorry that I did not take notes of what he used to say. I wanted him very much to write a short treatise on the Law of the Island — no person was so capable of doing it.’

On 27th September 1902, replying to congratulations on his appointment as C.V.O. , Sir James wrote again to his cousin : —I think often of your dear father, who was like a father to me. Whatever qualifications I may have for the posts which I have occupied I always consider that I owe them to him. Honourable distinctions were rarely given in his days . . . I am sure that, had they been, the people of the Island would not have thought any honour available too great for him, so much was he thought of.’

He died at his house in the Green, Castletown, on Sunday, 11th March 1847, after only a few days illness. It was reported at the time that ‘the deceased had been in infirm health for some time past, and it is said that his excessive judicial labours consequent on the failure of the Joint Stock Bank hastened his decease.’

It is, however, more significant that he had just lost his wife, whom he outlived by only one month.

Mr. McHutchin married in 1811 Sabrina, daughter of Colonel Rann. She was born in 1792, died at Castletown on 10th February 1847 and was buried at Malew, where also her husband and several of their issue are buried.

Colonel James Rann, Mr. McHutchin’s father-in-law, died in the Isle of Man on 3ist July 1813 while walking on the pier at Douglas. He was buried in St. Mark’s churchyard, Isle of Man, and a tombstone there commemorates him and his wife. He was 57 years old. He came from Ladywood, in Warwickshire, which is now part of the city of Birmingham. He is reported to have raised a regiment of soldiers, and an issue of the Birmingham Journal in or about 1860 contains verses which begin,

‘Come every Brum, at beat of drum,
To join our noble Colonel’;

and end,

‘And Colonel Rann, he is the man,
To wallop every Yankee.’

His regiment, of course, was raised for the British service in the American War of Independence; but Mr. Frank S. Pearson, in a lecture given in Birmingham in 1901, refers to Colonel James Rann being authorised to raise a troop of volunteers in 1798. This would be to repel the threatened invasion of England by the forces of Napoleon.

The family tradition states that he went to the Isle of Man, where his family followed him.

John McHutchin
Portrait of John McHutchin

Notes [fpc]

There is no mention of George McHutchin within George Moore's papers (see Frances Wilkins 'George Moore and Friends') thus some doubt must be cast on the quoted comment of Basil McGraw.

His son - John McHutchin, jnr, was accidentally shot and killed whilst disobeying orders to keep away from the wreck of the John Fairfield


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