[J Manx Museum vol IV #57 pp71/3 - 1938]

'One of the most able Manx Clergymen of his time '

A Brief Sketch of the Life of the Rev. James Wilks, V.G.

THE REV. PHILIP MOORE in a letter dated 28th June, 1777, wrote to Mr. Robert Blakeney : " I take this opportunity to condole with you on the loss of our dear friend Mr. Wilks, a man who was an honour and an ornament to his country. His great ability and superior talents were objects of envy - so that he could not have every man's good word. Nor is it to be expected that he or any man that ever lived should please every man. The brightest characters have their shades, for perfection is not in Man. He's only the best man who has the fewest faults, but all have some; and you among the rest, as well as your fallible and very humble servant, P. MOORE"

This is high praise, for both clerics knew the other intimately. Moore was fourteen years older than his friend James Wilks, and lived six years after him. The late Speaker Moore1 says that, next to Philip Moore, Wilks may justly be. considered the ablest Manx clergyman of his time. Both worked in a very trying period of Church history, when the Bishops Wilson and Hildesley were facing the persecution of the civil power. Both were classical scholars and took part in the translation and revision of the Manx Bible, although Moore took the greater share in the preparation of the 1771 edition.

The Rev. S. N. Harrison, in `The Manx Note Book' (Vol. iii, pp. 67-72), agrees with the late Speaker that Wilks was one of the ablest clergymen of his day. Both writers state that nothing is known of his parentage, but through the researches of Mr. J. J. Kneen, M.A., we now know that the Wilks family came from Dublin in the early part of the eighteenth century. The first record is of George Wilks. He married Ann Christian of Peel, who died at their home at Ballasalla in 1743. George and his son John were engaged as craftsmen in the minting at the Derbyhaven foundry of the beautiful 1733 'Eagle and Child' pence and half-pence.

John married Margaret Moore of Billown, a daughter of Deemster Charles Moore, whose mother was one of the Milntown Christians. George Wilks' second son James, the subject of this brief sketch, was born at Ashehold in Kirk Santan, a little farm to the south of Mount Murray, on the 26th July, 1719. He was married twice, first to Margaret Woods, daughter of Vicar-General Woods, by whom he had six children. Among these was Margaret, who married Vicar-General Thomas Cubbon, the father of Sir Mark Cubbon, K.C.B.

The second wife of the Rev. James Wilks was Elizabeth Christian, the daughter of William Christian of Ballamore, Jurby, and Ann Mylrea, herself a daughter of Deemster Mylrea. Their daughter Ann, born in 1758, married John Corlett, and their son James Corlett is the ancestor from whom are descended Sir Mark Wilks Collet, Bart., and the Rt. Hon. Montagu Collet Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England.

The Rev. James Wilks' son Mark was born on the 18th November, 1759. He became Colonel Mark Wilks, F.R.S., and held important military posts in India. He was the Governor of St. Helena for three years (1813-1816), during part of which period Napoleon was in exile on the island. He built Kirby mansion when he returned home, and became Speaker of the Keys in 1823 following the death of his father-in-law, John Taubman.

In 1742 James Wilks was ordained by Bishop Wilson and appointed Curate of Kirk German. He obtained a piece of ground at St. John's, and built there the first school to be erected in the vicinity. In 1744, when he was only 25 years old, he was appointed Vicar of Kirk German. In 1752 he became vicar of Kirk Michael, and whilst there was made Vicar-General. He moved in 1771 to the Parish of Ballaugh, where he remained until his death.

Because he showed good business acumen and energy he was sent to Dublin by Bishop Wilson in 1745 to obtain arrears of interest on some money left to the Academic Fund under Bishop Barrow's will, which money had been invested in property in Dublin. He was successful in his mission.

Here is an extract from the Report of the Convocation held at Bishopscourt on Thursday of Whitsun week, 6th June, 1745: 'Mr. James Wilks, Vicar of Kirk German, being commission'd by the Trustees of the Academick School to sue for the sum of 250, part of the fund settled for the maintenance of the Academick Lecturer: and having sail'd for Dublin for yt purpose: the persons following are to supply yt Church in his absence: June 9, Mr. Thomas Bacon: June 16 & 23, Mr. Wm. McYlrea [Deacon, Curate of Kk. Andreas] : June 30, Samuel Gell [who assisted his father, the Rev. William Gell, at Kirk Conchan ; he also was a deacon].'

The detailed account of his expenses from the time he left Derbyhaven on the 10th December to that of his return home is worth publishing. Seven weeks subsistence for 11 16s. 8d. is something of an achievement!

An Acct of the Expenses that attended my going to Dublin concerning the Acad: Money; pursuant to a Power of Attorney dated 20th Novr 1744, given by Peter Leigh of Lime & Chas Cholmondeley of Vale Royal Esqes, Trustees for sd money, to me. James Wilks.

1745. Dec. 10.

To Horse Hire to Bp's Court for my Instructions &c. ...
0 1 2
Dec. 11.
To Do to Derbyhaven in order to go for Dublin.
0 2 0
To Expenses there & at Castletown
0 1 6
Dec. 26.
To Horse Hire to Derbyhaven & Expenses there &c. ...
0 2 6
To Sea Store &c.
0 2 6
To my Passage
0 5 10
N.B.: This is Manks ...
0 15 6
Dec. 27.
To a Boat for putting me ashore from Pole-beg
0 1 1
To Supper Lodgings &c. at Rings End
0 1 7
To a Boy for carrying my Portmanteau to Dublin
0 0 4
To a Chaise to Mr. Kean's at Clantarf
0 0 6
To ale for ye Sailors .
0 0 6
To a Chaise to Clantarf for Advice & waiting 1 hour ...
0 0 9
To a Coach wth Mr Kean to Mr Walker's
0 1 1
To Mr Kean's Servt being sent home wth me
0 0 6
To the Ferry boat 4 times .
0 0 2
To a Chaise to Mr Kean's for Advice &c. & waiting 3 hours
0 1 3
To Paper Ink & Pens &c. .
0 0 4
To a Chaise to Rathfarnam after Mr Walker
0 0 4
To a returned Chaise from Mr Kean's having gone there in the morning wth Mr Walker
0 0 4
To a Bottle of wine wth Mr Meares Pub: Not :
0 1 8
To a Coach wth Mr Kean to Mr Walker's
0 1 1
To Expence extraordinary at ye Black Lyon, Fleet Street.
0 2 0
To D at Lestrange's wth Mr Moor Pub: Not:
0 1 8
To a Porter wth a Letter to Mr Walker ...
0 0 2
To a Chaise to Mr Kean's &c. & waiting 4 hours
0 1 7
To Expence at ye Black Bull wth Mr Batters ye Gentlem : who has ye 250 ......
0 3 0
To a Coach wth Mr Kean to Mr Walker's
0 1 1
To Coffee at Lucas's ...
0 0 3
To wine at ye Black Bull after receiving ye money from Mr Walker,wth Mr Moor Pub: Not: & others,vizt 4 bottles2
0 6 8
To D making Acquaintance wth Mr Dalton Pub: Not: in order to get ye money speedily laid out on good security
0 3 4
To D at ye Globe Coffee house trea ing &c. wth ye Revd Mr Carr ......
0 1 8
To Punch for Mr Coultis Attar: & others at ye Black Bull
0 2 0
To ale at ye Quay
0 0 8
To wine with Ben Johnson
0 1 8
To a Chaise to Mr Kean's wth Mr Meare's Proposals &c.
0 1 0
To Expences at ye Dog & Duck
0 0 10
Brot. over 15s 6d Manks, which makes Ir[ish].
0 14 2
To Expence wth Mr Bush, treating abt ye 250
0 1 8
To a Porter w" a Letter to Mr Bush
0 0 2
To ale &c. at ye Quay ...
0 0 10
To a Chaise to Mr Kean's wth Mr Bush's Proposals & waiting 2 hours
0 1 0
To D wth Revd Mr Carr's Proposals
0 1 0
To Expences at ye Black Bull receiving Mr Batter's Proposals ...
0 1 8
To a Chaise to Clantarf wth D ...
0 0 10
To Porters wth Letters to Mssrs Dalton, Johnson, Meares &c. ......
0 0 5
To Expences at ye Black Bull wth Mr Batters
0 1 6
To a Chaise to Kilcock to see ye Concerns to be mortgaged
0 7 7
To Expenses on the Quay, bespeaking my Passage home
0 1 0
To a Coach wth Mr Kean to Mr Moor's P : N : to see the Deeds perfected
0 1 0
To Expenses at ye Black Bull after supper wth Mssrs Batter, Ward &c. after the Deeds were perfected ...
0 3 4
To Porter wth my Portmanteau &c. to Harris's on ye Quay
0 0 10
To Breakfast at Rings End
0 0 4
To a Chaise to Mr Kean's for Letters and waiting 4 hours
0 1 71
To a Room 7 weeks at 48 pr.
1 8 0
To fire & Candle &c. for 7 Do
0 7 4
To Dyet for 7 weeks at 7s pr. ..
2 9 0
To Barber, Shoeboy &c.
0 6 31
To the Servt where I lodged ......
0 1 1
To my passage home ...
0 8 11
To a Boat for putting me ashore being a storm .
0 1 1
To other incidental Expences, occasioned chiefly by Mr. Walker's unnecessary & tedious Delays in paying the money,
as also, since the money was settled till I cd get a passage home
2 17 6
11 16 8

Bishops Court March 4th 1745/6.

I have considerd the above acct of Mr Wilks his expenses in Recovering & securing £250 of the Academic moneys, & upon discoursing with Him upon the several particulars, I do find the account & demand to be very just & Reasonable, & of wch I shall give the Honble Trustees an Acct. THO : SODOR & MAN.

Wilks went to London in 1755, and again in 1756, in connection with the Chancery Suit against the Earl of Derby for the recovery of the Impropriate Tithe for the clergy and schoolmasters. His diary of these, journeys and the business transacted during them is one of the most precious documents in the Manx Museum. It was presented by the Rev. Mark Harrison, M.A., one of his descendants.

The story of the hard-hearted conduct of the Duke of Atholl in taking possession of the Impropriate Fund out of which the salaries of the clergy and schoolmasters were paid, and its recovery after 22 years of patient struggle on the part of the Bishop and Clergy, is one which has not yet been adequately recorded. The sum involved was 4,101, covering the years 1736 to 1758.

In the year of his death, 1777, Wilks wrote a most interesting account of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man, which appeared in Vol. iii of The Manx Note Book, pp. 178-180. He also wrote, in 1774, a charming and most valuable description of the Parish of Ballaugh, which appeared in this Journal for March, 1938, pp. 16-18.

He was only 58 years of age when he died. During an active, if not lengthy, life he performed great services for the Church and his fellow clergy. He was buried in the quiet old churchyard of Ballaugh on June 21st, 1777.


1 'Manx Worthies,' p. 28.
2 This was first entered '5' and then altered to '4.

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