In the early part of the year1823 the Bolton Circuit sent John Butcher to mission the Isle of Man. That is about eighty-four years ago, during which time our Church on the Island has passed through a variety of experiences. And it is to be regretted that the story cannot be fully told.
Not because the missioners and members lacked the courage and self-sacrifice seen in other parts of the Connnexion nor because their labours were void of stirring incident but because of the absence of reliable records. As an example of the Circuit mission the Rev H. B Kendall regards " the mission to the Isle of Man as the boldest thing a Primitive Methodist Circuit has as yet attempted." (History, Vol. II., 37.) That it was as successful as it was courageous our position on the Island to-day plainly testifies, and if only ample materials where forthcoming there would be few fuller or brighter pages in the history of our " Israel." With the hope of getting a few "sparks from the anvil," the writer approached our esteemed historian, the Rev. H. B. Kendall, B.A. whose kindly reply I have pleasure in recording "It is a praiseworthy work you contemplate, for Manx Primitive Methodism. I am afraid, however with the best intentions in the world, I can help you little. I was entirely dependent upon the few references in the "Minutes" and the early magazines for information as to the introduction and early progress in the Island. The information was meagre Butcher's and Sherman's " Journals "-very scant -are in the magazines of 1823-4. I judge that Mr Petty was in a similar position. "It is a pity the someone living on the Island did not do many year ago for our Church what Rosser did for the Wesleyan Church in his " Wesleyan Methodism in the Isle of Man" - a readable book of two hundred pages Our Church is worthy of such a record, and the need is evident; for those who might be expected to take some little trouble to ascertain accurate information with regard to our history seem to know next to nothing about it. In what is considered the fullest and most up-to-date " History of the Isle of Man, by Mr. A. W. Moore, M.K., Speaker of the House of Keys (Manx Parliament), issued as late as 1901 in the section devoted to religious history, where the Anglican Church receives full treatment, our Church is worse than ignored. - Mr. Moore, to whom ecclesiastical history seems to be the history of the Anglican Church, has endeavoured to hide his partiality by the brief and amazingly erroneous statement "The Primitive Methodists were numerous enough to build a chapel in 1819 !" Surely a people owning £50,000 worth of property, and representing one-twentieth of the population, deserved something better. Fifty years before we received more generous treatment at the hands of Rosser, the Methodist historian. " The people called Ranters, or Primitive Methodists, have a good number of- chapels in the Island; and in several places they have pretty large congregations, comparatively numerous societies, and promising Sabbath schools. Their ministers appear to be pious, diligent, and useful men (Rosser, p. 200.)
The Rev. H. B. Kendall, B.A., in "The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church " (pp. 37-41), pays high tribute to Manx Primitive Methodism, and would, with fuller information, have dealt with its early days of progress in greater detail. The present writer does not expect to give satisfaction. After searching high and low for additional material, he has been but ill rewarded. Many of the bright summer days of a holiday were spent in ransacking the Circuit " safe," and examining old minute books and documents yellow and frayed with age, but the only gains often for weary hours were a few figures and formal records. I have sought out the old people whose forbears were among the pioneers, and in conversation endeavoured to learn our story. But the memory is treacherous, and care must be observed in setting down as facts what are but vague impressions. I discovered that those who could have given valuable information. had passed away at least ten years ago. However, I have done my best to give the-story as plainly and as accurately as I possibly can. My thanks are due to the ministers on the Island, especially the Revs. W. Harris and T. M. Pinnock; to Mr. T. S. Keig, photographer; and Mr. Walter Keig, Advertising Board.
The Manx people belong to the Celtic branch of the race, and are by nature warm-hearted and religious. Wesley wrote of them, on his first visit in 1777, " A more loving, simple-hearted people than this I never saw." It is no surprise, therefore, to learn that their sea-girt " little kingdom apart," with its heathery mountains and ferny dells, has ever been the home of religion.
When the Druids retreated before the conquerors of Briton, they found refuge in the Island, as evidenced by the stone circles which formed their roofless churches, the principal one of which mar be seen on the Mull Hills between Port St. Mary and Port Erin.
Christianity, according to tradition, was introduced in the fifth century by St Patrick, who came from Ireland. At least, Rome found a footing in the Island about that time, but never gained anything like the same sway as in Ireland, for, notwithstanding the efforts of the priests, the people have kept comparatively free from the shackles of popery. The influences of the Reformation reached Manxland from England through a Protestant clergyman named Allen, who fled from the persecution of Mary, and settled in Castletown. During the lifetime of George Fox the Society of Friends had preachers in the Island. They suffered bitter persecution from both the civic government and the State Church-were banished and their goods confiscated.
When Methodism first touched the ardent nature of the Manx is not definitely known. There is a record (Rosser, p. 46) that in the year 1758 Mr. J. Murlin, a Methodist preacher, called the weeping prophet, embarking at Whitehaven with the. intention of going to Liverpool, was carried to the Isle of Man. He stayed a week and preached several times at Ramsey. It was not until nearly twenty years after (1775) that the first Methodist mission was opened by Mr. John Crook, who was sent by a number of zealous laymen from Liverpool. Mr. Crook met with immediate success, although he had to; face considerable opposition, especially in the town of Douglas, where on two occasions he barely escaped with his life. This opposition was led chiefly by the clergy. The bishop wrote a letter, which was read in all the churches, warning the people against the Methodists. Religious persecution on the Island, however, was never very pronounced, so that on Wesley's first visit, 1777, there was little, and on his second, in 1778, none, when he was able to say, " Hardly in England except at Bolton-have I found so plain, so earnest, so simple a people." To-day Methodism has entered into the very blood of this little nation, and remains one of the most powerful influences in its life. The three branches, Wesleyan, Primitive, and United Methodist, number together about 4,500 members, and their 107 chapels provide sitting accommodation for half the population of the Island, and two-thirds of the total number of worshippers.
It was during the first half of what Mr. Kendall, in the " New History," calls The Heroic Period of our Church-the period of Circuit predominance and. enterprise, when Circuits did their own missionary work--that Bolton Circuit took the bold step and sent John Butcher to the Isle of Man. The exact date when Butcher landed on the Island we do not know, but from two records we can get very near the exact time. The first is found in 'the old minute book of Bolton Circuit, and is the minute of a meeting evidently held December 7th, 1822. That was. the first Saturday in December, and consequently the Circuit Quarterly Meeting, when the question of opening a mission on the Island was considered. How the subject came to be introduced there is no intimation. Was there an invitation from someone on the Island, as in the case of the Wesleyans? Or were all parts near Bolton being missioned? We do not know. The question was earnestly considered and high hopes entertained that in three months there would be a new Circuit needing to be " disciplined." The minutes read:- -
" That Bro. Butcher go for three mot (months) and that a preacher
visit at the end of three mot (months)-to discipline the
" That it is a providential opening for J.B."
" That Bro. Butcher is the fit and proper person. "
The other record is the first entry in John Butcher's " Journal ":- " Friday, January 10th, 1823. Preached at Castletown; joined three, and two found liberty." Between these two dates-December 7th, 1822 and January 10th, 1823-then, we must fix the time for the opening of the Manx mission. Whether Butcher was able to leave for his new post immediately after the Quarterly Meeting is uncertain; we can find no record. The writer is of the opinion that Butcher went to the Island a few days before the first entry in his " Journal," as given above. That is the general opinion of the old people with whom he has talked. And may not the minute of the Bolton Quarterly Meeting favour that conclusion? The decision was that Butcher should go for three months, that is for the following quarter. Now the new quarter would not begin until January, with the new plan. It is, therefore, very probable that Butcher finished his appointments on the Bolton plan, and set out for the Island early in the New Year.
That was 1823. What was the condition of the people on the Island at this time? Eighty years ago the population was 40,000 (to-day it is 56,000), living largely apart, isolated not only by the sea-a steam packet crossed to the mainland about once a week-but also by language, custom, and government. Even to this day the minister in the country places is called the English, preacher. It was not yet discovered as a pleasure resort. The people were poor. Agriculture had collapsed in 1765, and hundreds of the most vigorous had emigrated. In 1824 labourers' wages were very low-for a man £10 to £12 per year, and for a woman £3 to £5; for day-labourers 5s. to 8s. per week. Some of the more fortunate had a little land and kept fowls, a pig, or even a cow, but the bulk of the people were barely removed from dire poverty. The moral condition was not much better. Smuggling, which for many years had been the blight of the Island, was not yet stamped out. Drunkenness was rife; nearly every house on the highway sold strong drink. It is estimated that there was one public-house to every ninety of the population! There was no Temperance Society until 1830, and but little legislative restriction until 1857, when Sunday closing was passed, and the fee for licence was raised in price.
Yet about this period there were hopeful signs; the Bible had been translated into Manx, and several tracts on religious subjects were issued. These not only stimulated the religious life, but bear witness to the heightening of the religious temperature. Methodism had been at work well-nigh :half a century, and the Island formed a separate District, with 2,000 members. Sunday schools were :formed by both Anglicans and. Wesleyans, and branches of the British and Foreign Bible Society .(1814) and the Society for Promoting Christian 'knowledge (1818) had been established
At: this time, to this people - " truly gentle, courteous, and affable "-John Butcher was sent. He set sail from Liverpool in a fishing boat. A storm was encountered, and, not being able to enter Douglas Bay, they landed at Derby Haven. Butcher lost his hat on the voyage, swept off his head by a sudden gust. This is well assured. I have talked with a woman at Clycur who can remember her mother repeating what Butcher said, "The Devil had tried to prevent his coming to the Island, but only succeeded in getting his hat. " Butcher no sooner reached the shore than he fell on his knees And thanked God for his safe arrival. When he ceased praying and opened his eyes he found that several of the fisher folk of the village were near, and with bared heads, in full sympathy with his devotional spirit. Rising from his knees he walked up the shingly beach with a red handkerchief over his head, singing:-
"I'm bound for the Kingdom,
Will you go to glory with me, "
and the first Primitive Methodist service was held in "almost the first house he came to "
So, characteristically, our Church was born in this " tight little
island " in an atmosphere of prayer and song, under the roof of a
lowly cottage. DerbyHaven is a fishing hamlet about a mile from
Castletown, the scene of Hesba Stretton's story, " The Fishers of
Derby Haven. " On the low-lying shingly beach stand a dozen houses
which look out across St. Michael's Isle-now a thick tongue of land
with its fort and ancient church ruin-stretching out into the sea and
forming the shallow haven. The house still stands in which the first
service is said to have been held, and is now the Post Office.. For
many years a regular service was held, and Mr Sansbury, the name of
the friend who opened his house, became a member and a class leader.
In Butcher's " Journal," Derby Haven is mentioned twice:-
" 1823, February 22, 'Friday. Preached at Derby Haven, and joined a class of seven members. This is the second time of my preaching here. "
The first time, in all probability, was on the day of his safe arrival.
The following morning, after his somewhat adventurous voyage and friendly reception, we may picture Mr. Butcher leaving this little fishing hamlet-how he replaced the lost hat we wonder, was it borrowed? did it fit ? these were small matters-and walking along the road skirting the shore, the solid pile of Castle Rushen before him in the distance, passing by the State prison, Hango Hill, now in ruin, where " Illiam Dhone," once Governor of the Island, was executed for high treason against the Countess of Derby, he would come to the houses on "The Green." Here another friend was bold enough to put his cottage at the disposal of the Primitives, and the second " Bethel " was established. This was probably the Mr. Kelly who for his friendly act was unchurched by the denomination to which he belonged. This cottage, in which a regular service was held for some time, so Mr. Q. Stowell informs me, is now pulled down. It was situate just outside of Castletown, on what is called " The Green," where the Rev J. and Mrs. Openshaw, two devoted souls and worthy servants of our Church, lived for many years after the strenuous days of an active ministry.
Butcher, however, was not to be satisfied with outposts; he must have the flag of his Church flying above the citadel. Castletown was not only then, as it is now, the capital of the Island in name; it was the residence of the Governor and the head of the Government. We infer from his " Journal " that Butcher must have resided here and made it the strategic point from which he missioned the surrounding villages.
Now that we have seen the first Primitive Methodist missionary safely landed on the Island, and our flag about to be planted in the capital, it is quite time to ask, before proceeding further, who was
What kind of a man was our first representative on this " Isle of the Sea?" Unfortunately little is known about him. As far as we know there is no photograph, no memoir, in existence. His scanty "Journal," in the first volume of our magazine, covers only two months, and records the partial doings of only thirty days. Mr. Quine, of Quine's Hill, is among the few persons with whom the writer has talked who had seen Butcher. It was at the opening of Quine's Hill Chapel. Butcher conducted the ceremony. Mr. Quine's remembrance is of " a short, thick set man, round, ruddy, open face, strong voice, abounding energy, and glowing zeal." He was a man of prayer, of tireless energy, never hasting, never resting, a great family visitor and open-air preacher. With all his fervour there was mingled a shrewdness and kindly disposition. The former is seen in his method of missioning, the latter in captivating the children. Mrs. Corlett, who still lives on " The Green," at Castletown, tells me that, when a child, she with others would swarm round Butcher whenever they saw him in the street. And in his " Journal " he records that among the converts one night was a boy about twelve. Such was the man who successfully laid the foundation of our Church on the Island, and it is no small honour that his name be passed on in history as the first Primitive Methodist preacher in Manxland.
There is good reason for thinking that the first organised Society was at Castletown. Some give this honour to Howe, near Port Erin. But according to the " Journal " Howe Society was not formed until at least a week after Castletown. " Friday, January 10, preached at Castletown; joined three " (into a class or to a class previously formed). " Thursday, 16th, at Howe, joined a class of seven members." So we may safely conclude that while the first service was held at Derby Haven, the first class was formed at Castletown. But more important than the chronological order was the position given to Castletown as the strategic base from which Butcher worked. This was no mere accident. Castletown was then the most important town on . the Island, the head of the Insular Government. And, too, the English language was more generally used by the Manx at Castletown and neighbourhood than in any part of the Island. Butcher concentrated. his energies on this town, a room was taken by the small Society, and considerable interest created in the town. From the " Journal " we read:-
" Sunday, January 19, at Castletown, we had a Lovefeast, a
glorious time; and two got liberty. We sang through the town. Some
cried ' Shame,' others said it was like the old times when the
Methodists first came to the Island." Again:-
" February 9th. Preached at Castletown; the room was full, and near a hundred could not get in."
Every Friday and every Sunday, save one, for two months, we find
Butcher at Castletown, strengthening his central position, from which
he missioned the adjoining villages. And, in the midst of his
manifold labours, he finds time to visit the prisoners in the Castle,
and talks with the debtors and those condemned to transportation and
"I went to the Castle and visited the prisoners. Some were in their beds of affliction, others in sore distress of soul.... I prayed and preached and gave the best instruction I could. I went to the cells of two poor men who were condemned to dig for sheep-stealing."
During the two months that Butcher is establishing the work in Castletown, he is missioning at least four adjacent villages, and paying the newly-formed Societies a weekly visit. At Colby, about three miles from Castletown, a strong Society is formed, and we find Butcher on a Sunday afternoon preaching and leading a class of about sixty. " I spoke to about ten of them. We then had prayer, and, glory be to God, there was a shout of a King among us." Howe, near to Port Erin, is first missioned on January lath, and on February 11th Butcher preaches and records in his " Journal," " Mete the Lord is carrying on a gracious work. Before I had done preaching the cries of the heartbroken arose. During prayer I came down and went among them. About sixty stopped to class. I spoke to about eight. We then went to prayer, but how many got liberty I colild not say, for it was all cries, prayer, and praise. "
BALLASALLA is first visited on January 20th, when Butcher preaches in the open air. The word was with power, for the following week " a large house and parlour are too small " for those eager to hear. Societies are formed at these villages, and also at Port John (Port Erin) and Derby Haven. No other place is mentioned in the " Journal " for this period of two months, so we find that Butcher had restricted himself to a comparatively small area, stretching on one side of Castletown for three miles to Ballasalla, and on the other about six miles to Port Erin. This shows our missioner anxious to do solid work, and reveals a shrewdness and thorough-ness in laying the foundation. He must have toiled very hard, sometimes his heart failing as the burden of this new mission settles heavily upon him. At other times the joy of leading souls to Christ makes the burden as light as air. He writes, " Friday, February 14th. We begin to want class leaders; we have none yet. I have preached and led the classes all the time since I came to the Island." And then follows a glance at his inmost soul, " Sometimes I charge myself with being short of faith. "
We have now reached the March Quarterly Meeting, 1823. Butcher has been on the Island short of two months, but the mission is made into a separate Circuit, called Castletown Circuit, with 110 members. And, taking insular difficulties into consideration, in this short time, within a limited area containing a comparatively sparse population, this was a splendid achievement. Bolton had been made a Circuit by Manchester during the Connexional year, and it is remarkable that Bolton and Castletown - mother and daughter - came on the list of Stations together at the following Conference.
1. THE ADVANCE ON PEEL AND THE NORTH.-We have seen that for the first two months Butcher concentrated his attention on a small area of about nine by five miles, with Castletown as his headquarters. At the March Quarterly Meeting (1823), however, the word of advance seems to have been given, and during the remaining part of the year we follow the progress of our Church, noticing how one strategic position after another is taken and made the centre of further extension. For the first few months there is little in the way of records to guide us. Butcher's " Journal " ends with February. Sherman's does not begin until July. Although we are without this aid, being conversant with the physical features of the Island, knowing the main roads and the positions of the villages, we are almost certain of the lines of advance.
Beginning from Castletown, our Church advanced in two lines, the one in the direction of Douglas, touching Kirk Santon and Quine's Hill; the other skirting the base of South Barrule, through Clougher (Clycur), Renshent (East Foxdale), to Peel, and branching off to Glen Maye on the left, and on to Kirk Michael on the right.
Taking the second route first, some five miles from Castletown, on the declivity of South Barrule, is the scattered village of Clycur. Near this village one of our first Societies was formed, and on the roadside the first Primitive Methodist Chapel on the Island was built. The services began in the barn of Clycur Farm, and Mr. J. Quayle, the farmer, and his family, were amongst our first members. The Society increased, and when the harvest drew near, which would be gathered into the barn where the services were being held, the question arose as to where the worshippers would find a sanctuary. Why not build a chapel? The suggestion was immediately taken up. The neighbouring farmers gave materials, and carted them to the site; the poor gave their labour, and the chapel was built at the total cost of £30. Let no one imagine that this was anything like the commodious village chapel of to-day Picture a low, rough-walled building, long and narrow, with mud floor and thatch roof, small, narrow windows, whitewashed within and without. Nor let anyone despise this rude sanctuary, with its rough wooden Couches, and lighted with tall New candles fixed in tin sconces, for it was a veritable " Bethel " to our fathers and mothers. There were several of this description throughout the Island in the early days. Like this one at Clycur, they have been replaced by better chapels. Yet to the old people there was something incomparably fascinating in their first thatched " temple," where they first saw the Lord.
Following Butcher in his pioneer work, we pass up and over the hill, keeping in the direction of Peel, but veering a little to the right we come to Renshent, better known to-day as East Foxdale. This neighbourhood became noted for its rich silver and lead mines, and the Cornishmen which came in large numbers gave by their fervent nature a new impulse to Methodism. A Society was formed in a cottage, where a service was regularly held for four years, when the little Church succeeded in building a " house " of prayer. A story is told in connection with the building of this chapel. Butcher was on the Island for a second term, and John Graham was his colleague. Graham went to the landowner and succeeded in begging the stones from his quarry. He went a second time to ask for the timber and slates. " Is that not a little unreasonable, Mr. Graham? I've given you the stones. But now I'll tell you what I will do. If you can get "-naming a notorious poacher that had given him much trouble -" if you can get him converted I'll give you the timber and the slates as well as the stones." Mr. Graham returned to the little group of believers, and at once they set to work to pray and work especially for the conversion of the poacher. During the special services which followed they succeeded in getting the poacher to attend the service, and before the end of the fortnight he was converted. The night on which the poacher made the surrender was the scene of great excitement. Graham's cup of joy was full, and as he saw the rough, burly fellow kneel like a little child at the feet of the Master he shouted, " Praise the Lord, there's the timber and there are the slates of our new chapel. " The chapel was duly built, a little more substantial and commodious than Clycur, and cost £60 only in money.
From Renshent to Peel is a journey of some five or six miles, through Foxdale village, passing St. John's, where the open-air Manx Parliament is held each July. The exact date when Butcher missioned Peel we do not know. It was during the fishing season, probably March or April of this year. It is commonly believed that the first visit took place under the following circumstances: When Butcher reached Peel on his first visit he found the fishermen in a most gloomy state of spirit because of the dearth of fish. For many a long night they had " toiled and caught nothing." Butcher's heart was touched with sympathy, as he looked on their sad weather-beaten faces, for they flocked to hear him, and he prayed in the street most earnestly that God would interpose on the part of the fishermen, and give food to the hungry wives and children. Call it coincidence or what you may, the next time the boats went out there was a great " catch " of fish. The nets broke with the weight of fish, every boat was full, and many had to be thrown overboard. To this day it is known as the "big bay fishing. " The fishermen themselves had no doubt; they believed God had heard- the good man's prayer and answered it by directing them to the fish that night This opened Butcher's way wonderfully; large numbers, especially of the fisher folk, were converted, and a Society formed. Their meeting place was the old barracks of the Manx Fencibles. The house exists to-day, and is known as Clucas' Restaurant. In 1833 a chapel was built at a cost of £400. This chapel still stands; it has been enlarged, and is used for Sunday school purposes
Whether Butcher went forward to Ramsey during this period we are not certain. We do know that in both Kirk Michael, midway between Peel and Ramsey, and Ramsey, our Church was planted this year, and in Ramsey a chapel was built. A few earnest, enterprising Primitive Methodists, on their own responsibility, built the chapel and afterwards sold it to the Connexion. The building still stands in Chapel Street, and is used as an Independent Methodist Chapel.
On the opposite side of Peel, Butcher penetrated as far as Glen Maye, one of the most secluded and romantic parts of the Island. Primitive Methodism found here a congenial soil. Raby Farm, where our service and school were held, became the only centre of educative and religious influence for miles round about. Talking to one of the old people-who had never left his Island home until he was sixty, and then he was " so stupid," as he put it, that he dared not leave the house-in Liverpool which he visited, for fear he should lose himself-he could go back in memory to within a few years of Butcher's time, and as a boy attended our Sunday school. Said he, " I had no schoolin', but was goin' of a Sunday to Creginashun barn." This was where the Primitive Methodists held their school and services. The barn, which during the week had been the scene of threshing with the " flail," put on quite a different aspect on the Sabbath. Cleared and swept, it was filled with devout worshippers, who sat on rough planks or bundles of straw. The Manx language was chiefly used, and many were the trophies won for Christ in this rude sanctuary. Glen Maye gave to our Island Church its best Manx evangelists, Philip Clucas and the Brothers Thomas and William Gorry, who have preached the Word in every corner of the Island. We will, however, refer again to these in the proper order, and must now continue Butcher's work of progress.
2. THE ADVANCE ON DOUGLAS.-The second line of: advance was on the town of Douglas, at this time largest village in the Island Starting from Castletown, the first village is Ballast Butcher had already missioned this village, and so rapidly did the Society grow that a chapel began building this year. Kirk Santon, two miles further, was successfully missioned. A chapel was built in the rising part of the parish, called Newtown, in 1827, and the Church founded became strong and influential. The Kinnish, Keig, Moore, and Kelly families connected with this village Society have given many stalwart sons to our cause. Passing on by the old road to Douglas, we come to Quine's Hill. The little chapel which still stands on the roadside was built in 1823 on a piece of land given by the road commissioners, through the influence of the father, of the present Mr. Quine. Butcher conducted the stone-laying ceremony, which Mr. Quine, who is still living, attended as a boy, and can distinctly remember seeing and hearing the first Primitive Methodist preacher on the Island.