From Rev. M. W. Harrison’s Collection.

Document No. 150.


THE subject of afforestation created interest here a century and a half ago as it does to-day. In the library of the Manx Museum are some letters written by an eminent French author named Dr. Andrew Coltee Ducarel and the Rev. James Wilks, Rector of Ballaugh and Vicar-General

Revd’ Sir,

As it is a long time since I have had the pleasure of hearing from you, the principal Business of this Letter is to enquire after your health.

The next is to inform you that here is just published in 8vo ‘ The History of the Island of Man from the earliest accounts to the present Times, by the late Mr. Rolt.’

It seems to be a very good account of that Island, and judiciously drawn up. But there is a Fact there stated wch appears to me extremely doubtfull — I mean as to Woods or Timber in yt Island. It is said page 2, and p. 105 ‘ That there are no Trees there except some lately planted by one Mr. Moore, Agent for the Island, who hath planted 50000 upon his own Estate there.’ Now, Sir, can this be true ? and is it not a received Maxim that, in ancient Times, all the Northern parts of Europe abounded with Timber?

To give you therefore as little trouble as possible on this occasion I only beg the favor of you to give me an an$wer to the following Question viz. What are the names of Oak, Chesnut, and Apple trees, in the ancient & modern Manks Language. And yr answer at yr Leisure (by the Post) will very much oblige me. . .

Wishing yrself & family Health & Happiness I remain Sir, Your Most faithfull humble Servt.



Doctors Commons,

July 10th, 1773.

Quere, Wn very ancient Houses are pulled down in yr Island are not the Timbers of Oak, or Chesnut Wood?

To the Revd. Mr. Vicar General Wilks.

Isle of Man. July 26, 1773. My dear Sir,

Last night 1 recd your favour of the 10th Inst., & am extremely obliged to you for your kind enquiry after my health, & have the pleasr to inform it has during three years past & upwards been very good, save some attacks of a spasm or Cramp in the stomach, which leaves a weak-ness & listlesness behind it of some days duration.

I see you continue your Enquiries into the hidden paths of Antiquity & glean from them whatever has the appearance of truth & utility.

1 have not seen Mr. Rolt’s History of the Isle of Mann, but am surprised he should say there are no Trees there except some lately planted by Mr. Moore. — Tis very certain that Gentleman has planted many of various sorts of Trees upon his small Estate, — but his Plantation is triffling in comparison of others, particularly one on the North E. side of the Isle near Ramsey at a place called Lewague, where a pretty large wood of Oak, Chestnut, Beech, Ash, Berch & Aspen planted abt. 70 years ago was of late years cut down by Mr. Christian the owner ~ and there are many other Plantations in different parts of the Country, several Trees now standing between 2 & 3 feet Diameter.

But what are these to the remains of large and extensive Woods in what we call the Curragh, or boggy swampy ground upwards of 6 miles long & near 3 broad where are yet to be seen thousands of the stumps of very large Oaks and firrs, the Trunks of them mostly buried in Beds of Turf or Peat their tops lying mostly one way vizt N.E. Out of these Bogs the Natives annually dig up large Oaks and Firrs, most of which by some Disaster & many ages ago have been broke off near ye Root, & others as if blown down by a Hurricane, the Trunk laying at its full length, wth Root, Boughs and branches still remaining intire and sound under Peat & thereby preserved from ye external air & from rotting. These oaks for the most part are as black as Ebony & carry a smooth grain when wrought. The late Bp of Durham had a part of an old Mx oak by way of Cane & mounted wth Gold, which he esteemed as a great Curiosity, & I have now by me some pieces of this black Oak, found in ye roof of an old house. destined for the like purpose, one of which I shall take the first opportunity of forwarding to you, to be applyed to such use as you think proper — wth some petrified muscles found in a Lime stone Quarry about 2 miles from ye sea.

After I have seen Mr. Rolt’s History, I shall be the better able to give you my sentiments ot

it. In the meantime let me answer your Qu : & give you ye names of the foll Trees, in the Mx Language —





Oak —


Holly —


Ash —


Hazle —


Fir —


Aspin —


Elm —


Elder —


Willow —


Appletree —


Mountain Ash —


Cherry-tree —


As to Chesnut, Beech, Birch & Poplar we have no proper names for them in the Mx Tongue —nor do I recollect to have seen either or any of these in our Bogs in which even on ye tops of our mountains many Trees are found in ye bottom of Turf pits, & in many parts thousands of Hazle Nut-shells — with many rotten branches & boughs of Hazle.

Tis true most of the Timber for sevl years past — & at present used in this Island for house building is Firr imported from the Baltick or Norway — but for the ordinary uses of Husbandry, a great part of such Timber is of our own growth & good in its kind, particularly Ash and Elm. In all places protected from the S.W. winds (which are here sometimes very violent) trees grow very well, & were it not for ye Expence of making proper fences to protect the young plants from Sheep & Cattle, our Island wd soon abound with Wood.

All the large Beams & Timber in our antient & beautiful Castle of Rushen (which is sayd to have been built by Gutred son of King Orry abt the year 960) is Oak & where protected from wet, continues firm to this day. But I remember to have heard Bishop Wilson say, he had seen or been told of a Charter between the King of Man & King of Wales, wherein the latter was to furnish the former with as much Timber as wd be sufft. for the building of his Castles, & in return the King of Man to furnish the King of Wales with a certain N°. of vessells for War.

Doctors Commons. Augst. 14t~~ 1773. Dr Sir,

Your very obliging, ingenious & learned Letter, was brought to my Hands yesterday, by Mr. Watts — I am greatly obliged to you for yr curious account of the Timber growing in your Island. I have, this Evening, sent to the Liverpool Machine, wch sets out tomorow or Monday, a parcell directed for you, to Mr. Leece at Liverpoole ; containing Rolt’s History of the isle of Man, & my Letters concerning Chestnut trees &c of both wch I desire yr acceptance. You will, in this Tract, see my reasons for thinking the Chesnut an indigenous Tree in England. I have no doubt but that it formerly grew in the Isle of Man — though none is there to be found at present — if any is still extant, it must be in Rushin, or some other old Castle there. It differs in colour & in grain but very little from the Oak — and has been often mistaken for it. What amazes me is, that (if ever it grew there) the very name thereof in the Manks Language should now be lost. If even a Stump of Chesnut could be found in y~ part of the Island called the Curragh, that would prove the Fact. I am much obliged to you for yr intended present of a piece of the Bog-Oak. . .

Your most faithfull humble Servt.



Andrew Coltee Ducarel, who corresponded with the Rev. James Wilks, was, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, a Doctor of Civil Law and a noted antiquary. He was born in Normandy in ~Y13 and died at London in 1785, having been educated at Oxford. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. He formed a manuscript collection of forty-five volumes which were in 1810 purchased for the British Museum.

For many years he used to go in August on an antiquarian tour through different parts of the country in company with his friend, Samuel Gale, and attended by a coachman anu footman. They travelled about fifteen miles a day and put up at inns. After dinner, while Gale smoked his pipe, Ducarel transcribed his topographical and archæological notes which after his death went to the British Museum. He was in the habit of declaring that, ‘ as an old Oxonian, he never knew a man till he had drunk a bottle of wine with him.’

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