[From Manx Note Book, vol iii, 1887]
AMES WILKS WAS BORN IN 1719, BUT NOTHING IS KNOWN OF HIS PARENTAGE, AND NOTHING OF HIS EARLY LIFE TILL 1742, WHEN HE WAS ORDAINED BY BISHOP WILSON, AND APPOINTED CURATE OF ST. GERMAIN'S, " WITH power to dispose of the Glebe and all other profits to the best advantage." As there was no school in that parish he at once interested himself in the matter, and obtained a piece of ground near St. John's, where it was ultimately built. In 1745 he became vicar, and in the same year he was sent by the Bishop to Dublin to see after some money left to the Academic Fund under Bishop Barrow's will, which had been invested in that clt),. Part of the interest of this money had not been received for some time past, as appears from a letter* of Bishop Wilson's to Mr. Kean, of Clontarf, soliciting his aid in the matter, of which Wilks was the bearer. On his arrival in Dublin he received the following letter from his Bishop:-
june 7th, 1745.
I hope this will find you safe in Dublin There was a short state of the case in wch you are concerned, left behind, wch I gave Captn Murray, the day after you went to be sent by the first, to you I must desire you to get my Cousin Bate to make a Flaggon wch will hold a full gallon, with a Spout. for the use of the Sacramt - with a Dish of 14 or 15 inchs broad - and two light Plates, to carry the Bread upon, all of the best pewter, with this Inscription upon them -The gift of Mrs Catherine Halshal to God and the Altar of Kk Maliew, A.D. 1745-and place ym to my account.+ Your church is provided for, for a few Sundays, and shall if need be, be taken care of afterwards . . . . . . My kindest respects to Mr Kean, and to Coz. Bate. I pray God give you good success and a safe return.
I am yor affect Freind (sic) and Brothr;
"Tho: Sodor & Man.
"To the Reverend Mr Wilks.
"Recomended to the care and freindlye of Mr Peter Quirk of Peel."
His mission was evidently successful, as Bishop Wilson ordered the following statement to be recorded-
"I do entirely approve of what has been done by the Rev' J. Wilks, with the advice and assistance of my friend Mr E Kean, in the recovery and settlement of the £250, part of the Ac Fund, which same Mr Kean declares in his letter to me tohave been in great jeopardy, but that the same is now sufficiently recovered - In consideration of Mr Wilks' trouble upon the affair besides his expenses I look upon Five Pounds to be a moderate allowance."
In 1750 he was made Episcopal-Registrar, and in 1752 Vicar of Michaeel . He was very intimately connected with the Bishop, who, in his later years, greatly depended upon him. As surviving Curator of the Bishop's will, to which he had been a witness, he carried out his instructions respecting his funeral, in 1755. A good idea of James Wilks' straightforward and yet cautious character is obtained from a letter which he wrote at this time to the Rev. Philip Moore, Rector of Ballaugh, who was endeavouring to get a dispensation to hold both the Rectory and Douglas Chapel:-
" As you are so plain with me, touching the affair of Ballaugh, I must be plain with you. I own my surprise that you should desire the favour of a dispensation. To me it appears plain that every minister ought to reside among the flock committed to his charge. If you consider the present state of the Church and the fatal consequences which may attend such a precedent being introduced I dare say you have his Lorship's character and the good of the Church too much at heart to desire such a favour. I hope you will excuse my interfering on your behalf, but be assured that neither will I interfere to your prejudice."
He went to London in 1755, and again in 1756, in connection with the Chancery suit against the Earl of Derby for the recovery the Impropriate Tithe. He kept a diary of these journeys and the business transacted. On his first journey he set out from the Island on the 21st of March, about 10 p.m., and continued at sea till 3 a.m. on the 24th, when he was put ashore on the Sunderland sands, six miles below Lancaster. He crossed the river in a boat, and, after walking upwards of a mile, procured a horse to take him to Cockeram. Next day he went on to Preston, and reached London on the 29th. The day after his arrival he dined with the Duke of Athol, who asked him many questions about the Island and the Bishopric, and a few days after introduced him to Dr. Hildesley, Vicar of Hitchin, whom he had appointed to succeed Bishop Wilson. The Bishop then entered into a long conversation with him, and was much pleased with what he heard.
On his first going to London it was agreed upon that he should be paid £25 10s., and 6s. a day for every day beyond 40, and in case of his death, his widow, (Margaret Woods, daughter of the Rev. J. Woods,) was to receive £8 per annum. She, however, died during his absence. He afterwards married Elizabeth, daughter of William Christian, of Ballamoar, Jurby, who survived him. In the minutes of Convocation, held at Michael, 1756, the following entry occurs relative to his second journey:-
"Whereas Hugh Hammersley, Esq., solicitor for the Clergy and Schoolmasters in the cause depending in the H.C. of Chancery against the Earl of Derby by letter bearing date April 17, has requested that the Rev. James Wilks would forthwith proceed to London in order to attend the settling of the Accounts before the Master in Chancery. We are truly sensible of the services the said James Wilks may be of in the Premises, and have so far prevailed with the said Mr. Wilks to undertake the same.*'
This time he was paid 10s. 6d. for expenses every day he was absent and the compensation for his trouble and loss of time was to be decided by the Bishop, the Receiver, and Comptroller, "with such annual provision for his children in case of death as they think proper."
On his way via Liverpool, he called at Crosby, and had a long conversation with Mrs. Halsall, respecting her intended charities to the Island.
In 1766, he made another journey to London on Ecclesiastical business, when he had an interview with the Archbishop of York, to whom he represented the deplorable state of the Island, where there had been a very bad harvest, and told him that two representatives of the people had come to town, to solicit some favour from Parliament. He laid before his Grace the heads of several branches of trade which would benefit the people and no way prejudice the Revenue. The Archbishop and the Bishop of Durham promised to do what they could, but it was late in the Session, and Parliament was embarrassed with North American affairs, so nothing was then done. However, in the next year, an Act was passed for the encouragement of trade and manufactures. Disputes had arisen between some fishermen and the clergy about the fish-tithe. The fishermen appealed from the decision of the Governor to the King and Council, and James Wilks had to go to London to assist in the defence of the Clergy.
At this period disturbances and riots were frequent in London, caused by a constitutional struggle, in which John Wilkes was the most conspicuous character, so that James Wilks was frequently questioned as to his relationship to his namesake. Referring to this, he says-
"For my own part I would wish, for the present, my name was any other than Wilks, for wherever I have occasion to tell my name I am stared at and asked whether I am not a relative of the 'Great Wilkes,' as he is called."
By the Statute law of the Island it had been enacted that-
" Every master of a fishing boat shall cause all fish to be brought above the full sea-mark and there to pay truly the tithe, and if they will not truly pay then the master shall make 5 shares of the fish and the Proctor shall appoint to be divided what share he will. The master must divide. The Proctor shall choose in that order because it hath no life."
In 1643, this was confirmed by a decree of Lord Derby, agreed to by the Officers spiritual and temporal and four men out of every parish ; and again, by the Commissioners, sent by Charles Earl of Derby, to settle affairs in 1660. But the fishermen seemed to have thought that this law had been affected, if not superseded, by the King taking possession of the Island ; as one ground on which they claimed exemption was-
'' That the fish had been caught on his Majesty's seas a great distance off the Island, and landed in his Majesty's seaport of Peel, in which fishing they paid Custom."
James Wilks had the management and direction of the various suits connected with the fish-tithe, all of which were decided against the fishermen, and out of the sums paid in lieu of the tithe the clergy who had contributed to their defence were re-imbursed, and the remainder went towards paying him for expenses and loss of time.
In 1769, he became one of the Vicars-General, and in 1771, Rector of Ballaugh. On his appointment there, he and the Vicar of German perambulated a great part of the boundaries of their parishes, attended by a large number of parishioners, and fixed the limits in several doubtful places. He had taken part in the translation and revision of the Manx Bible, which was first published in 1772. Bishop Hildesley's death occurred in the same year, and James Wilks was left executor with the Bishop's sister. The arrangements with the Bishop's successor devolved a good deal of trouble upon him, chiefly with reference to what was called the "Executor's Crop", before his final settlement in 1775.
James Wilks died in June, 1777, and was buried in the old Churchyard of Ballaugh. On his tombstone is the following epitaph:-
Sleeping in Jesus.
Translated hence the good man never dies,
But like the day-star only sets to rise.
Rev. James Wilks,
Rector of this Parish and Vicar-General,
Aged 58 Years.
Was buried June 21st, 1777.
Next to Philip Moore, James Wilks may justly be considered the ablest Manx Clergyman of his time.** Like him, he was the devoted friend and assistant of both Bishop Wilson and Bishop Hildesley, and like him he was possessed of some literary power, as will be seen from the interesting account of "The Inhabitants of the Isle of Mann and their Language," which will appear in the next number of the Note Book.
S. N. HARRISON.
* Keble, 'Life of Bishop Wilson,' P. 870.
+ Mr. Charles Swinnerton writes to the Editor with reference to the above dish--." Going one day into my friend John McGhie's brass-moulding shop and seeing this plate rolled up ready to be put into the crucible, I took it up and having read part of the inscription engraved on the rim I bought it and got a copper smith to beat it out to its original shape. I then found the inscription to be exactly as stated in Bishop Wilson's letter. The flaggon and other plates were melted down."-[This gives a vivid idea of the care taken of old church plate in the Isle of Mann.-ED.]
** William Walker was earlier, and John Kelly somewhat later.
see Manx Worthies