[From J Manx Museun vol VI #65 pp42-45 Dec 1941]

Links with Dickens in the Isle of Man


WHEN Mrs. Lirriper confided to her lodger that the Isle of Man " is not a place that according to my views is particularly in the way to anywhere at any time ", she was not necessarily speaking the mind of her creator. Her dictum is one of the very few allusions to the Island in the works of Charles Dickens, and although his travels took him into Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Isle of Wight there is no evidence that the novelist ever set foot in the Isle of Man. But if Dickens himself never visited it., recent research has shown that his mater- nal grandfather was resident in Douglas during the last fifteen years of his life, that one of his uncles made one or two notable contributions to Manx literature, and that his father and eldest sister spent some weeks in the Island.

Forster, the authorised biographer of Dickens, tells us that Charles Barrow, the father of Mrs. John Dickens, was at one time a lieutenant in the Navy. He was the eldest son of William Barrow, a barber-surgeon of Bristol, where he was born on 29 May 1759. At the age of 21, when he was admitted to the freedom of that city, he was des- cribed as a mariner; and a family tradition has it that he was once shipwrecked off the coast of Madagascar and walked across that island with his crew. On 27 January 1788 he married at St. Mary's Church, Lambeth, Mary Culliford, the daughter of a musical instrument maker who some years later was in partnership with Charles Barrow and William Rolfe at 112 Cheapside, London, opposite Bow Church.

An entry in Holden's London Directory for 1799 gives the address of Charles Barrow, music master, as 27 Walcot Place, Lambeth; and the same directory for 1802-4 has: " Charles Barrow; music master and circulating library, 27 Park Place, Kennington ". There can be little doubt that both these entries relate to Dickens's grandfather, seven of whose ten children were christened at St. Mary's, Lambeth; between 1788 and 1800. The baptism of Dickens's mother, Elizabeth Barrow, was registered there on 20 January 1790.

Charles Barrow's appointment as an extra clerk in the Navy Pay Office on 26 December 1801, at an annual salary of £78 5s., marks a turning point in his career. Little more than a year later it is rather startling to find him installed in the responsible post of Chief Conductor of Monies in Town, which carried with it a salary of £330 a year and a suite of rooms at Somerset House. Such phenomenally rapid promotion implies that some powerful influence had been brought to bear in his favour, and the same influence may perhaps account for the nomination on 5 April 1805 of Barrow's second son, Thomas Culliford, and his future son-in-law John Dickens, to minor clerical posts in the Navy Pay Office. Charles Barrow superintended the disbursement of the whole contingent, paid the incidental expenses of the Office, attended at the bank and received all monies, which he despatched to the outports, Portsmouth; Plymouth, Sheerness and Chatham, under the escort of armed guards.

Miss Gladys Storey in Dickens and Daughter (1939) has told how Barrow made up his account in the usual way on 11 January 1810 and handed it to the Paymaster, who forwarded it to the Navy Board with the request that £900 be imprested to Mr. Barrow. Investigation showed, however, that since 1803 the Chief Conductor's balance in hand had gradually increased and that he had, on every application for an Imprest Bill, stated a false balance, the total deficiency amounting to £5,689 3s. 3d. Summoned to appear before the Treasurer, the delinquent made a full confession, pleading that the very heavy expenses of a family of ten children, increased by constant illness, had led him to commit an act which he bitterly regretted and for which he expressed his utmost sorrow. He begged the Treasurer to forbear communicating with the Navy Board for a few days, in the hope that the deficiency would be made good by his brother. A few days later; finding that this could not be done, he tender- ed his resignation, concluding with this poignant appeal

" I most earnestly entreat the forbearance of the Navy Board in not demanding instant settlement of the balance. The demand might drive me into gaol, strip my family of what little furniture, clothes or other resources they may possess for their immediate subsistence. They are now unprovided for and severer steps, by preventing my exertions for their future maintenance, would indeed confound us all in one overwhelming calamity."

When the Treasurer gave directions for a criminal prosecution to be instituted it was found that Barrow had absconded, leaving only some household furniture which the Sheriff of Middlesex seized under a Writ of Extent, and it was supposed that he had left England. In fact, it would seem that he first sought asylum at Brighton under the roof of Mrs. Elizabeth Roylance, afterwards of 37 Little College Street, Camden Town. She was the friend in need who provided lodging for John Dickens and his family in 1824, after his discharge from Marshalsea Prison, and was to figure some 25 years later as Mrs. Pipchin in Dombey and Son 1 .

The fugitive's stay with Mrs. Roylance must have been brief, for he soon put himself out of the reach of English law by fleeing to the Isle of Man. The following announcement appeared in the Manx Advertiser of 9 September 1819:

C BARROW most respectfully informs his Friends and the Public, that he continues to teach the PIANO FORTE, and to give Lessons in THOROUGH BASS. He cannot omit this Opportunity of returning his grateful Thanks for the Encouragement and Support he has experienced for nearly Ten Years Past, from the first and most respectable Families in the Island, to whom he can refer with respect to his abilities and attention.

Piano Fortes tuned in Town and Country. Mr. B.'s Terms may be known on application to his House; No. 2 Cambrian Place, Douglas.

* * C.B. having arranged with Mr. PARRIN 2 , will be enabled to furnish his Friends, Monthly, with the newest Publications they may please to order; also Musical Instruments of every description. Music Paper, French and English, Violin Strings, and every Article in the Musical Line, for Ready Money, Douglas, Sept. 2, 1819.

This advertisement goes far to establish the. identity of Charles Barrow with the Lambeth music master and to prove that soon after his precipitate flight he had made his home in Douglas, where he continued to give lessons in music and to run a circulating library as he had done twenty years. before. Pigot & Co.'s New Commercial Directory for 1824; published in August of that year, gives his address as Cambrian Place, Douglas, and his occupation as " organist at St. George's ". St. George's was then the fashionable church of the town, and its organ is said to have been remarkably sweet and, for its size, of considerable power.

In 1826 the organist was living in Athol Street, Douglas; and there he breathed his last on 19 February. The Manx Sun of 25 February 1826 records under the heading "Deaths ": " On Sunday, the 19th inst., at his house in Atholl-street, much respected, Mr. Charles Barrow, late of Somerset House, London, aged 66 years ". His remains were interred in St. George's Church on 24 February, administration of his estate being granted, on the petition of his widow Mary, to Christopher Karran, Sumner of Braddan, on 18 April. Mary Barrow returned to England and survived her husband 25 years.

Barrow's third son, John Henry, born 4 January 1796 and baptised at St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, on the last day of that month, was a mere boy at the time of his father's fall from grace. He was not yet seventeen when, in the year of his famous nephew's birth, he made his literary début In August 1812 the Committee of Drury Lane Theatre invited proposals for an address to be spoken at the re-opening on 10 October. Young Barrow promptly set to work and enclosed his effort with a letter written from 301 Strand. All the addresses submitted were, however; rejected in favour of a prologue by Lord Byron, a member of the Committee, which was read on the opening night.

In the same year Barrow found a publisher for his poem, De Mowbray. These early efforts were followed by Manks Legends, a small collection of poems from the Manx tradition, published at Douglas in 1817 or 1818; An Appeal to the English Nation in Favour of Bonaparte, London, 1821; and The Mona Melodies, London; 1820. The first two titles are known only from a list of his works compiled by Barrow himself; but there are copies of the third in the British Museum and the Manx Museum; and these are fully described in Cubbon's Bibliography of the Literature of the Isle of Man. The full title of this interesting volume is " The Manx Melodies; A Collection of Ancient & Original Airs of the Isle of Man. Arranged for the Voice, with Piano Forte accompaniment. By an Amateur, The Words by Mr. J. B. Dedicated by permission to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent. By Her Royal Highness's Grateful and Devoted Humble Servant, C. St. George. Price 8s/-. London, published at Mitchell's musical library & instrument warehouses, 159 New Bond St. (opposite Clifford St.), & 13 Southampton Row, Russell Square." A variant copy in the British Museum has on the title-page "The Words by Mr. J. Barrow ", the name of C. St. George being omitted .3 As pointed out by Mr. Cubbon, the book contains ten songs and three dances, the tunes (including that to Molly Charrane) being the first recorded in print. Not until 1896 were the next collections or Manx melodies, those of Moore and Gill, published. Mona Melodies is of interest to Dickensians because the long list of subscribers includes the names of John Dickens (the novelist's father), John, Thomas and E. Barrow (Mrs. John Dickens's uncle and two brothers), Thomas Charlton and Thomas Culliford, both of whom were relatives of Mrs. Dickens. The composer of the music was apparently Mrs. Catherine St. George, author of Edwardina, " a novel by Catherine Harris ", 2 vols., 1800 (of which there is a copy in Harvard University Library), and Maria, a Domestic Tale, 3 vols., London, 1817, dedicated to H.R.H. the Princess Charlotte of Saxe-Coburg. The scene of these novels is laid, in whole or in part, in the Isle of Man. The death of Mrs. Catherine St. George in Adelaide Terrace, Notting Hill, on 25 March 1850, aged 77, is recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine of May 1850. She was perhaps Catherine Harris before her marriage, and her husband may have been George St. George, Esquire, one of the subscribers to Thomas Collister's Herring Fishery and the Town of Douglas, 1815. In the " Advertisement " prefixed to Mona Melodies dated London, 30 May 1820, the authors acknowledged their indebtedness to "one or two Gentlemen of the Island, whose active zeal, as amateurs, furnished them with the Airs of some of these melodies ". The words, they added, were entirely new.

About this time J. H. Barrow's reports of the trial of Queen Caroline in the Times earned him some reputation as a shorthand writer. His steno- graphic skill was exercised also in reporting the proceedings in the ecclesiastical courts at Doctors' Commons, that " lazy old nook " with which his brilliant nephew was to become so familiar and, through him, the readers of David Copperfield. From 1822 Barrow became a frequent contributor to the British Press, a newspaper which found employment for both John and Charles Dickens a year or two later, and to various periodicals.

He was admitted to Gray's Inn on 5 June 1823, described in the register as " third son of Charles Barrow, of Douglas, Isle of Man, Esq.", and called to the Bar on 26 November 1828. His ponderous historical novel of the thirteenth century, Emir Malek, Prince of the Assassins, appeared in three volumes in 1825. But the most ambitious undertaking of his career was the founding on 29 January 1828 of the Mirror of Parliament, with offices at 52 Parliament Street, Westminster. In his prospec- tus he claimed to have assembled " the greatest talent and experience ever applied to parliamentary reporting ". Among those engaged to help him in this task were his younger brother Edward, John Dickens, and Charles Dickens himself.

In this, however, as in most of the enterprises to which he set his hand, Barrow was dogged by misfortune and, although the Mirror continued to appear until January 1837, when it was suspended for ten months, it finally ceased publication in October 1841. By the winter of 1843 he found himself unemployed with a family of eight children wholly dependent on him. A letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, written on 31 January, fell on deaf ears. In October 1845 Charles Dickens, preparing to launch the Daily News, sent his uncle to India as its representative in that country.

Barrow arrived at Calcutta on 7 January 1846, soon after the outbreak of the Sikh war. His first despatch in the Daily News of 23 February, gave an account of the battles of Mudki and Forizshah; and a second edition of the issue of 23 March contained a long report of the defeat of the Sikhs at Aliwal. Later despatches were received from China, Calcutta and Bombay. Long after Dickens had given up the editorial chair Barrow continued to contribute to its pages.

Having reached the age of 60 Dickens's uncle wrote his Memoirs of the Professional Life and Times of the Editor of the Mirror of Parliament. Misfortune still pursued him; and in July 1857 he contracted a painful illness from which he never recovered. Broken in health, worn out in mind and body, and practically penniless, he died on 30 March 1858 at Francis Street, Newington, and was buried in a pauper's grave at Norwood.

A visit to the Isle of Man by John Dickens, the novelist's father, and brother-in-law to J. H. Barrow, provides one further link between Dickens and the Island, although little is known of the circumstances of that visit. When Dickens's sister Fanny settled with her husband, Henry Burnett, in Manchester in 1842, her parents were living at Alphington, near Exeter, moving later to Lewisham. In the autumn of 1844 they stayed for some months with the Burnetts in Higher Ardwick; and John Dickens, in a letter to Mrs. Charles Dickens from Manchester, told her that he had spent nearly two months with his daughter in the Isle of Man and expected to return to town on i October. No record of his stay in the Island has been found elsewhere.


1 Soon after Forster published the first volume of his life of Dickens in 1872, he received a letter from the husband of Mrs. Roylance's granddaughter, protesting against the unflattering portrait of her drawn in that book. Her purse and home, according to the writer, were at the service of the Dickens family, who stayed with her "not as lodgers but invited welcome guests". He added that "Mrs. R's house proved the sanctuary to a respected relation, Mr. Barrow, a paymaster of the Admiralty, while under a dense cloud".

2 Mr. Parrin, organist of Penrith, advertised in the Manx Advertiser of 12 August 1819 " Grand Concerts " to be given on 18 and 19 August at Dixon's Assembly Room, Douglas.

3 The Manx Museum Library has an imperfect copy of this variant.-W.R.S.

Wm Carlton was born in 1886 in Surrey and wrote some 60 articles on Dickens, being the leading authority of his day.

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