[From Manx Soc, vol. 26]
IT is somewhat singular that various writers who have thought proper to allude to the case of William Christian of Ronaldsway, Receiver-General of the Isle of Man, did not consider it necessary to refer to the Depositions deposited in the Rolls Office, Castletown, in order to ascertain the facts therein recorded, as to the actions and motives of various persons connected with The Rising, in 1651 , against the authority of James, 7th Earl of Derby, the supreme Lord of the Island, and that of his noble Countess, Charlotte de la Tremouille, during his absence from the Island, when he went to assist Charles II. in his last fatal struggle for the recovery of his throne. The writer of Historical Notices has indeed referred to them in such a way as suited his own view of the case, betraying much ignorance of the laws and customs of the Isle of Man; a copy of this pamphlet was forwarded to Sir Walter Scott, by John Christian of Milntown, one of the Deemsters, complaining of the treatment one of his ancestors had received at his hands, which drew from Sir Walter, in the Introduction to the next edition of Peveril of the Peak, a vindication from the charge of what the Deemster complained of in his letter to him, and says " what Mr. Christian remarks about that Edward Christian, described in the tale as the brother of the gentleman executed, was a mere creature of the imagination, and he was not aware that such a person had existed."
History and Fiction appear to be so blended together that it is difficult to separate the one from the other, in order to know what is true and what is false. As time rolls on, Fiction often establishes its place more firmly in the minds of the multitude who will not take the trouble to investigate for themselves, merely because it is more attractive and alluring than the dry, and in many cases, uninteresting detail of History. Many causes conduce to this result, the bias which those connected with a particular case may have, either in the fact or otherwise of the incident recorded, leads them to relate the circumstance in a far different manner than the actual fact would justify, when it comes to be fully investigated in all its bearings.
The case of William Christian appears to have been one of these ; his career was not devoid of some portion of romance, and as such, it especially struck the fancy of Sir Walter Scott, whose attention had been called to it by his younger brother, Thomas Scott, who, during his residence in the Isle of Man, had collected some papers connected with Christian, which he placed in his brothers hands, the most remarkable of which Sir Walter Scott says, " remained engraved on his memory," and became embodied in his romance of Peveril of the Pea/c. On its appearance it created a lively interest in the Island, and prompted enquiry as to what were really the facts connected with the history of one or two of the characters depicted in that romance. As may be supposed, it revived much of the interest that had formerly been felt in the fate of Illiam Dhôan as to the justice or otherwise of his sentence. It called forth animadversions according to the varied feelings, as they happened to be connected with the sufferer, or as they looked back, as Sir Walter remarks, " with the eyes of favour upon the Cavaliers or Roundheads of those contentious days."
Fiction, as has been observed, often usurps the place of fact, this is fully exemplified in the case of "Fenella," mentioned in the before-named romance. Among the thousands who annually visit Peel Castle and enquire for the sally-port from whence she is said to have made her escape, scarce one enquires for the Tower in which the Earl of Warwick was actually confined in. This sally-port being now popularly known as " Fenellas."
Much interest is however taken at the present day in the publication of Historical documents contained in the Public Record Office as well as in the private archives of families who have so liberally thrown them open for investigation, thereby clearing up many distorted or doubtful cases of general history. The publication of the various depositions, and the proceedings connected with the case, now for the first time printed, will, there is little doubt, place this episode of one portion of this disturbed period in the Isle of Man in its proper light, as these documents thus brought forward, without comment from the editor, will speak for themselves.
It was intended to print the petition of Christians wife, alluded to in the Lieutenant-Governors Order for Sentence of Death (Document, No. ix. p. 34), but on making application to Mr. James Kewley, at the Rolls Office, he says it cannot be found.
A portrait of William Christian was long retained in the family of Watterson of Balnahow, Rushen. He is represented as dressed in a green coat, without collar, after the fashion of those puritanic times, with the head in a close wig. The countenance is youthful, and well-looking, very unlike the expression of fore-boding melancholy. It was presented by one of the family of Watterson to the late Mr. Oswald, surgeon, Douglas, and by him given to Miss Ann Thomas, who placed it in the hands of Dr. Nelson of Douglas, where it at present remains.
Some explanation is due to the Members of the Manx Society for the length of time these documents relating to Illiam Dhôan have been withheld, for, on the formation of the Society in 1858, they were among the first that were proposed to be issued. The late Mr. James Burman undertook to have them copied, and had made considerable progress with his work when death put a period to his existence in 1864. His executors reported that his manuscripts relating to this matter could nowhere be found, but that it was the intention of Mr. James Gell, with the assistance of Mr. J. F. Gill, the acting executor, to print the text, with notes, explanatory of the mode of trial, &c. Various allusions have been made as to their progress, which will be found in the Annual Reports printed in the Societys Series.
In the year 1870, a number of documents connected with Christians case were placed in the editors hands, when he took an early opportunity of consulting with Mr. James Gell, the Attorney-General, respecting them. It was then arranged that, as his time was so fully occupied with public matters that prevented him from having that leisure to devote to the work which he could have wished, he would be glad if the present editor would undertake to prepare the documents for the press. Accordingly, such was done, and a preface and introductory notice prepared, which were placed in the hands of a learned gentleman for his opinion and revisal. After many and repeated applications since that time for these papers to be returned, but without avail, the editor had no alternative but again to set to work, and at considerable expense and labour, procure copies of the various documents, and again to re-write an introductory notice, which he fears is not so lucid as that which he had previously prepared.
The editor regrets, accordingly, having to make this statement to the Members of the Manx Society as accounting for the cause of so much delay taking place before these documents are placed in their hands ; the reason is best known to those who have to this day retained them.
The editor has considered it necessary to prefix a few remarks connected with the time of the Rebellion (which might have been amplified to a mueh greater extent), to make the general reader acquainted with the events of that distracted period. Many of these documents are printed for the first time, to which others have been added, from various sources, in order to arrive at a just estimate of the guilt or otherwise of those implicated in the transactions of that day, which the editor trusts will be satisfactory to the Members of the Manx Society.
ROCK MOUNT, 14th February 1877.
1 " All the attempts that have been made to depict William Christian as an amiable and justifiable character have been far from overturning the antecedent presumption of his moral and political guilt. The character which he bears with his countrymen of the present day is perhaps more indebted for its favourable hue to some existing records in rhyme, expressive, it may be, of the momentary feelings of popular commiseration at his fate than to any genuine qualities of head and heart which could claim a merited sympathy in the affections of his countrymen."Trains Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 213, 1845.