PM World 10 Jan 1907 pp25/6

The Story of Primitive Methodism
in the Isle of Man.

By Rev. W. CURRY.


In 1839 Hugh Bourne paid his first visit to the Island. Without any notice whatever he landed in Douglas on Friday, August 9th. Although having suffered from sea-sickness he delivered a lecture on " Revivals " the same night in Wellington [], to the delight of the people. By the Sunday it was noised abroad that Hugh Bourne was in the town, and would preach. It was a great day. Early in the morning the people turned out to procession the streets and give a general invitation to the Camp Meeting. " The Camp Meeting," says H. Bourne " was numerously attended and powerful; one soul was converted in the field. The services went well all day. I preached in the forenoon to the children; and preached in the evening in the chapel previous to the lovefeast, this is their custom. Then followed the prayer meeting, and many, both children and adults were converted. " On the evening of the day following Hugh Bourne gave another of his lectures on " Revivals," and left for the mainland on Tuesday morning.

A letter to Mr. James Bourne from Rev. S. Atterby, then the Superintendent Minister on the Island, gives an account of this popular visit. It tells that H. Bourne had arrived safely on the Island, that " he was very unwell but very happy and conversable. He was unexpected by the people, but the visit was most acceptable. He scarcely spent one moment unemployed; lecturing on revivals, engaging in private prayer, family visiting, preparing matter for the magazines, and attending meetings. He returned on Tuesday morning."


Whether Hugh Bourne's visit was the chief cause it is difficult to say, but it is a pleasure to record that from the time of his visit onward for nearly four years was almost one series of revivals. There :is every reason to think that Hugh Bourne's visit and lectures on revivals were among the chief factors which contributed to these delightful results.

The first intimation of the coming revival we have from Mr, S. Atterby, who tells us that preparations began in the early autumn of this year (1839) by a whole day of prayer and fasting throughout the whole Circuit, beginning at six o'clock in the morning. This day of prayer was followed by services at each place each evening. " The cloud of the Divine presence rests upon them,: such power, such prayer, burning zeal, holy love, prevailing faith, and unwearied labours by the Manx brothers and sisters I never before witnessed. Conversions took place throughout the whole Circuit. At Douglas there were fifty-six, and at Castletown fifty more."

The good work continued on into the 'forties, which were days of triumph. Samuel Atterby was succeeded by-Thomas Jobling, whose " Journal " becomes our guide in telling the story. Jobling was a man of great energy and evangelistic enthusiasm. The time was ripe. The ground had been prepared, and the seed patiently sown, and he possessed just the temperament for this rich harvest field. How great was the ingathering may be judged from the following statement. When Jobling went to the Island in 1840, the membership stood at 838, while in 1842, including those on trial, it had risen to over 1,700, and a sixth preacher was called out

In this great increase no adventitious attractions were resorted to. Everywhere the people were urged to fasting and prayer. Whole days were spent in pleading with God for a revival of His work in every part of the Island. Soon the smouldering embers of the religious life began to burn brightly. The fire became a blaze. Some of the meetings, although commencing at six in the morning, could only with difficulty be closed at ten o'clock at night. Some could not be closed, but, as in the days of the Welsh revival, continued all night. Mr. Bottomley, Jobling's colleague, speaks in the same strain as his Superintendent, and tells of the praying and missioning and the many converts. " At Glen Maye he preached on May 2nd to a dense congregation. The prayer meeting continued until one o'clock in the morning, and a great number found peace. The meeting was closed, but began again and continued for four hours, with many converts."

Mr. Bottomley relates also that at Colby a service was held until two o'clock the next morning, and briefly records that from October, 1841, to June, 1842, there was scarcely a single service held without some confessing conversion.

Hence, by the old methods of open-air meetings- sometimes they were out in the streets by five o'clock in the morning, and " knockers up " were told off to rouse late sleepers; by prayer, repentance, and great searching of heart, and the plain declaration of the Word, the barren land was made fruitful. There was not a single Society but which shared in the general prosperity; some above measure. The fourteen at Kirk Michael became one hundred and twenty-four. Ballaugh's dozen members went up to a hundred, save one. Ballasalla, the largest village on the Island, had been barren for years, but now flourished like a fruitful vineyard. Prayer meetings were held as at other places. The revival broke out unexpectedly one morning. Jobling was planned that day. They turned out early in the morning to invite the people to God's house. The morning service was one of marvellous unction, followed by a prayer meeting, and seven were converted. The time for the Sunday school anniversary was near, but the anniversary in the ordinary sense was never held, but something better took its place. The only part of the regular anniversary which was observed was the collection, which proved more than ordinarily good, as is the case when the spiritual life of the Church is in a vigorous state. The day was spent mostly in prayer, with short exhortations to repentance, and at the close of the day twenty had given themselves to Christ to the joy of all. The work continued night by night for over six weeks. During the time no set sermon was preached. Over one hundred were converted in Ballasalla, and the work of revival spread to all the villages near.


The conversion of William Seenitt does not belong to the revival to which we have just referred. He was a trophy of the early days, won from a careless and sinful life by Butcher's preaching. Seenitt belonged to a regiment of the Manx Volunteers called the Manx Fencibles. In his way he was a great soldier, and in those days of strained relation between France and Great Britain, William thirsted for the Frenchmen's blood. A report reached Castletown that the French had actually landed in Ramsey, and the Fencibles must march at once to face the enemy. Seenitt, thinking at last his great opportunity had come, was besides himself with wild excitement. He was, however, doomed to disappointment, for when his regiment marched north to Ramsey no Frenchman had landed. Soon after, he heard Butcher preach; the message went home to his heart, and William Seenitt became a true soldier of the Cross. For many years he was a consistent member of our church at Castletown, and died well.


One direct result of the revival was the conversion of Philip Clucas, or " Big Phil," as he was familiarly called. His conversion took place in the Glen Maye Old Chapel soon after it was opened, during the Revival services which were conducted by two local preachers from Kirk Michael, Messrs. J. Rogers and J. Corjeag. Phil became the greatest Manx evangelist the Island has ever seen. Physically he was a man of great proportions, and his strength was equal he that of three ordinary men. He had a row of double teeth all round the lower jaw, a voice like the rolling of deep thunder. He could neither read nor write when he was converted, but had a good memory, and could easily remember portions of scripture and hymns which were read to him. Mr. W. Cowin, of London House, Douglas, tells me that when a lad he spent hours in reading to him, and his impression of him was that Phil Clucas was a good man and a most powerful preacher. Phil possessed a good deal of originality, and when he had a good time it was a great treat to hear him. His style of preaching was most impressive, especially with the careless worldling. He poured out, in rugged eloquence, descriptions of the state of the lost, using realistic pictures which recalled the days of Bunyan. It was through a vision of the terrible state of the lost, which was to him as real as the sun by day, that he was converted. And what was real to him he made real to others. He was much sought after be preach all over the Island, and great crowds flocked to hear him-and under his irresistible appeals hundreds were converted. Many of those who became officials, and bore the weight of church responsibility, were led to the Christ by Phil Clucas. Evan Roberts like, he did not always go where he was invited. He would often go uninvited to places, suddenly swoop down upon a Society, and commence special services. If the church were ready he would continue; if not, he would quietly cease and move onto another village. In a prayer. meeting he was absolutely at home in dealing with the anxious. In. the small chapels, packed from end to end, he would take off. his coat, and even his boots, that he might. not be impeded in his movements among the people. With the distressed he was the most :tender-hearted and sympathetic man conceivable.; but he could brook:. no interference on the part of the trifler. In Laxey. he left the pulpit and collared a young man of six feet high, who was making some disturbance at the door, and marched him to the front and compelled him to kneel down. This act quelled the disturbers, and afterwards the young man and his companions were converted. On another occasion. Phil. was. annoyed by the people looking round while he was preaching, until at last he said, " Look this way; if-the devil comes in it's me-he'll-make for, and you'll all see him." He preached in his native Manx language, but soon acquired English. He often preached in Douglas, where English was principally used, except at the 8 a.m. service on Sundays. Phil attempted a short prayer in English, and in a very short time was able to speak fluently in both languages. He was a great evangelist in his day and very successful, was much respected right up to his death, which took place- in 1870, and today in the Island Phil Clucas is a household word.


In Mr. Quayle Stowell, of Castletown, we have a living link with the early days. He was one of the first Manx Primitive Methodist local preachers. Mr. Stowell has been a preacher for sixty-nine years, and up to about twelve months ago took his appointments-and walked, too. He has preached with Hugh Bourne from the same waggon at some of the noted Manx Camp Meetings. He knew some of the first, members of our: church. on. the Island, and remembers seeing Thomas Butcher. Mr Q. Stowell is a typical Manx: local. preacher, with a strong hold on evangelical truths, original in his ideas. and quaint in expression-a ready flow of natural eloquence, never weak, lighted up with flashes of humour. He has travelled all round the Island to preach: the Gospel. He has been a great temperance advocate in the days when total abstinence was laughed-at, Quayle-Stowell was among the first to take a firm stand. His brother Flaxney, a Wesleyan local preacher, and he went three times round the Island speaking on temperance. - They. held five meetings each week, and paid their own expenses. His best work, however, has been done at home in building. up the Sunday school and church at Castletown, of which he, and his family, have been the stay for years. Mr. and Mrs. Stowell are still living; he is 89 and she is 90 years of age. They have had a long married life of 62 years together, a splendid tribute to Primitive Methodism!

We have now completed as far as we are able, our story of this period and it only remains to gather up in a general review the work as it stood in the Island Circuit in 1843. The reader may remember that Sharman tells us in his Journal that at the end of 1823 there were 643 members on the Island. In 1830 the number had dropped to about 300! and the Circuit, we learn, was in a " languishing state,." This declining state of things, if not altogether,, was largely due, in our opinion, to the distressing and distracting event mentioned above. The following few years bring a great improvement, for in 1833 the membership had gone up to over one thousand. "-A great revival had come through the mercy' and judgment of God and the zealous and consistent- labours of the travelling preachers and the praying people of the Circuit." The " judgment " referred to here. was the terrible Epidemic of cholera which swept the Island in 1832, when eighty-four died in Castletown alone. The impression soon passed, however, for in 1837 the numbers had again fallen to 556. Once more the tide turned. The people gave themselves to fasting and prayer, and in true apostolic fashion went out into the highways and by-ways with the word of invitation. The result was a great revival, which vent on for over three years-" the congregations became large, the class-meetings were well attended, the regular prayer meeting was seldom missed, open air preaching and processioning, family visiting and attention to discipline, the finances improved, and all was enthusiasm. " Thus we have both cause and effect in one. The story of Manx Primitive Methodism verifies the often repeated statement, that when God's people seek Him with the whole heart in prayer, and call in earnestness for a revival of His work, they have not long to wait. He soon opens the window of heaven and pours out the overflowing blessing. Through this revival our Church on the Island became stronger numerically than it has ever been since. In 1842 there were reported, including 250 on trial, 1,770 members;. over 100 local preachers, 25 chapels and preaching rooms, and six travelling preachers. Of the forty preachers who travelled during these years space forbids more than the mention of a few. Thomas Jobling, the great revivalist;. Jonathan Clewer, the painstaking superintendent; Samuel Atterby, a great family visitor; John Graham, James Bottomley, and Matthew Lee, men of prevailing prayer and passionate appeal. The period fittingly closes with the enlargement of Douglas Chapel, and the holding of the Manchester District Meeting in Douglas, amid great spiritual rejoicings.

 (to be continued)


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001