[Taken from Proceedings of The Wesley Historical Society Vol XIX part 8 pp 195/201 Dec 1938]
There is probably no place in the world where Methodist chapels are more closely planted (considering the population) than in the Isle of Man. Yet Methodism was only introduced into the island in 1775, when Mr. John Crook was sent there as a " Gospel Missionary " by the Society in Liverpool. A memoir of John Crook was published in the Methodist Magazine of 1808, and contains many details about these early days, though Crook travelled in many other circuits and was in the chair of the Irish Conference more than once. Wesley visited the island in 1777 and again in 1781 On the latter occasion he wrote, " Having now visited the island round, east, south, north and west, I was thoroughly convinced that we have no such circuit as this either in England, Scotland or Ireland." At his death it came second in membership in the list of Circuits; London came first with 2,950, and the Isle of Man followed with 2,500. The next in order were Manchester and Leeds with 2,290 and 2,080 respectively. It is surprising that more has not been written about Methodism in the Isle of Man. There was a good account of it in one of the old Winter Numbers of the Methodist Recorder, and some details were given in two articles in Vol. V of the Proceedings, but information: about the early days is not easy to obtain. The Methodist Magazine for 1828 (p. 715-6), has a memoir of Mr. Robert Brew, of Kirk St. Ann, who was one of the first members on the Island.
Recently, however, I came across a Short Account of the Life of Mrs. Mary Holder, mostly taken from her Journal by her affectionate husband. She was a Miss Woodhouse, of Whitby, who married George Holder, one of Wesley's preachers, who began to travel in 1782, and died in 1836. This Short Account was published in the latter year (1836) at Whitby. They had to "sit down" in 1833 after the husband had a stroke at the Leeds Conference and retired to the house of Mrs. Holder's parents. They were married in August 1788, and she began her itinerancy with her husband at once; their first appointment being to the Isle of Man. They sailed from Whitby to Newcastle-on-Tyne and then went by coach to Carlisle, staying a night at Hexham on the way. Another day brought them to Whitehaven, and three days later they arrived at Douglas after a stormy passage.
" We soon had many friends to welcome us. But everything was new and strange to me. The people,-their manners,-language; I neither knew yes nor no in their tongue. In the evening we went to hear a Manx preacher, and I was struck with surprise at seeing the people flock to chapel. The strangeness of their dress, with the unknown language of the preacher, seemed to put me in a maze; but while I sat, and reflected upon the goodness of God in causing the Gospel to be sent amongst the people, through the means of a missionary sent from England, my heart and my eyes were much affected with gratitude and love to God and His servant Mr. Crook, who was the instrument of so much good here.
Our first Sabbath was spent in Douglas, the public and private means were a blessing to many; their hearty singing, -their Amens, and serious countenances, affected me much. I was pleasingly disappointed to meet with so many agreeable pious persons in Douglas, and the place appeared to be far more pleasant than I expected. But as there was no house for a preacher and his wife, Mr. Smith, who was going to stay a second year, advised my husband to take me into the country with him, and one of the friends would prepare a furnished room for us upon our return. Our first ride was ten miles to Castletown, we had a pleasant view both of land and sea, the fields clad with corn, and a number of boats on the sea, with the men casting their nets for the fruit of the great deep. We had a blessed season in the evening. After preaching, the body band met and a sweet spirit of simplicity ran through the people; they freely told of the Lord's dealings with their souls. We then had a short ride to Bellafeason; here we met with a few of our Lord's children, and had a refreshing time together. From thence up the mountain to a place called How, here we could hardly understand one another, as they conversed chiefly in Manx. The next day we rode to Colby, where the word was precious and prayer powerful. The day after to Ballasalla, where are 22 in Society. My husband preached in the morning, and returned to Castletown to preach, noon and night. It was a day, I believe of general spiritual profit. On Sept. 9th we had a pleasant ride to Ballaclague and had a good meeting. A young woman was restored who had lost her evidence. To the Lord be the praise. The 10th we came to Ballacharry. We everywhere met with kind friends, and what makes all things more agreeable, our spiritual strength was renewed, in waiting upon God. The 11th we crossed the Moor and had a pleasant ride between the mountains to Berrol (Barrule) and had a view of the lead mines, and were blessed with divine favour. The 12th we rode to Mylanailigg, some friends met us here from Peeltown, and the father of mercies was present, while sitting together, under the sound of the gospel. The 13th we were heartily received at Peel, where I spent a week and met three classes. Sabbath morning, while my husband was preaching from, 'whom have I in heaven but thee,' etc., one woman was set at liberty, and many found a quickening of soul. The 22nd we had a difficult ride among the mountains to Kerrawglass, our Lord's presence made our way and place agreeable. The 23rd we had a pleasant ride to Ballaugh, and a good meeting. We passed the Bishop's Court, a pleasant situation indeed to look at, but what is this to the love of God hi the heart of man. Sunday at Kirkandrews [? Andreas] we had some blessed meetings. The Lord was among his people. My soul was sweetly melted before him-
I would praise Thee, O my God,
I would praise Thee,
But where shall I Thy praise begin.
Nov. 3rd, we came to Douglas, to the quarterly meeting, Manx Conference, so called. Here the Manx preachers are examined and an exhortation given to them. On Friday and Saturday, we had a sermon in English and another in Manx, for there are many who only understand one of the languages. On Sunday we had a love feast here, as also on the Sunday following at Kirklonnon, but such times for weeping, groaning and crying aloud I never witnessed before. What prayer and praises were there uttered! Blessed be God I found a spirit of liberty to cast hi my little mite. Though sometimes I wept, and sometimes was tempted to smile, and also to fear lest some would go into fits, with the heat and crowd of the people.
The 14th we got to one little habitation. I felt some exercise when my husband left me but through grace I soon found rest and refuge in the arms of Jesus.
If all the world our Saviour knew,
Then all the world would love him too."
When Mrs. Holder settled at Douglas in her own house, the narrative changes to personal testimony and we find few notes of incidents of interest in Methodist history. Mr. Wittam preached a powerful sermon on Isaiah xxxv, 8, on October 22nd and at Easter, April 1790 she records a wonderful experience of divine love, under the Manx preaching. " O how was the bleeding sacrifice presented to me as newly offered and risen again for the sins of the world. O my God keep the issues of my heart that I may never grieve thee more." The next extract is one of good-bye, July 13th, " We took an affectionate farewell of our friends in the Isle of Man, and landed in England that night." So ended the first appointment of two years useful work.
Four years later they returned for a second stay of one year. The Journal record is
" 1794 Douglas-Isle of Man.-Before we left Scarborough, where we spent two years, we were blest with the company of my dear spiritual mother, Mrs. Crosby, her visit was profitable to me and to many. When I first heard of my husband's second appointment to the Isle of Man, all within me opposed it; this did not arise from want of love to the people there; no, my heart was and is still much united to them. But when the time came I had to leave my weeping relations and friends, strength was given for the day .....
July-I have been in the south part of this circuit with my dear husband, it hath been a profitable journey to my soul. Last Sunday, at a love feast, I thought I could live and die amongst the Manx people. The outpouring of the spirit of God was great. I never remember such a time under the English preaching. Blessed be the name of the Lord, Zion hath lifted up her languishing head in that and many other places. Four hundred have been added this year to the Society: may they all be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.
August.-I feel my little all at present cast upon the Lord; I have had a blessed time this afternoon in meeting the class which I began five years since, when we were on the island before.
1795. Douglas, Jan.11th. I have walked in sweet liberty the week past . . . Some are stirred up to seek the Lord here, three are added to our class, I rejoice in this, next to my own soul, the salvation of others. The cry of my heart; Let Zion's burden be abundantly enlarged, with such as shall be eternally saved.
Douglas, April 12th. I have spent a few days in the country with my husband, to profit, both of body and mind. We had a wonderful love feast at Kirklonnon, last Monday; such weeping, shouting and praising God, as was most astonishing. The fire that broke out last year continues to burn and spread here. While my husband was preaching from Luke ii, 28-9, one woman who had lately begun to meet in class, was enabled to believe in a reconciled God, through a view, by faith, of the infant Saviour. A little while ago, she was a gay, trifling, dissipated person indeed. Her spirit, temper and dress are remarkably changed.
Manchester, July 18th. Nine days ago we took an affectionate leave of our dear friends in the Isle of Man, the cries and tears of some of the people rendered my head unfit for a sea voyage. I never saw anything like it before in any preacher leaving a people. O Lord, send them the help they need and bring them to thy holy hill and dwelling place to praise thee for evermore. Many are the spiritual and temporal blessings I have enjoyed on that spot of ground."
Twelve years were spent at Manchester, Whitehaven, Bridlington, Scarborough until her mother's death in 1800. Then there is a gap in the Journal until we read,
" By a particular request of Conference, 1807, we have once more returned to the Isle of Man, and were received with a hearty welcome.
1808. A happy union of spirit subsists between the English and Manx preachers and the people; the work of God prospers: and many are brought to the knowledge of the truth, in the south and north parts of the island.
1809. The blessed work continues to spread, and a goodly company are added to many societies, and above twenty to one class. I believe we have the approbation of heaven in coming a third time to visit our old and new friends in the Manx land. O how short sighted are we; how often do the things which we think make against us, prove our greatest blessings. What a trial above twenty years ago, when that man of God, Mr. Wesley, appointed my husband to his place; but I believe we shall have cause to praise God for it to all eternity. I feel great love to many on this spot of earth, and am much united in spirit to those I meet in class and band.
1810. A few months ago we left Douglas and came to Ramsay, the north part of the island; for some weeks I mourned as a mother bereaved of her children; particularly for those who used to meet with me in private .....
September 1811. we are staying a third year in Ramsay. What hath the Lord done ? A good house building, in a favourable situation-the society increasing, and preachers and people all united; we live in love and the God of love and peace is in the midst of us. I think we may say with the poet-
Our souls by love together knit,
Cemented, mixt in one.
I believe I shall never forget my happy days amongst the dear people, in both the north and south parts of the island. The Lord reward them for their love to me and mine. We received a letter from brother Maxwell, giving us an account of my dear sister Richardson's poor state of health.'' In November follows an account of her sister's death and a vivid story of her husband's intuition of it. " Some days after this we heard that she had died about the time we ceased to pray for her." Then follows the last paragraph that concerns the Isle of Man. " Some time ago the preaching house was opened. My husband preached in English and Mr. Stevens in Manx; crowded congregations attended. We parted with our friends in the Isle of Man with many tears. August 1812. I was much affected and greatly blessed under the word preached at Leeds, during the Conference."
They spent a year in the Wetherby Circuit and then three years at Thirsk, going to Tanfield in 1817, The last 18 years of their life together was spent at Whitby and Mrs. Holder died peacefully on June 20, 1836. " My dear wife departed this life, aged 84, having been in the Methodist connexion about 68 years." His sadness at the loss of "my most affectionate and delightful companion in the heavenly road for nearly 48 years, " was not to be of long duration:" He, himself, died "in great peace," on November 9th of the same year, aged 85 years. It appears that he was converted under the preaching of John Wesley at Robin Hood's Bay. In his obituary in the 1837 Minutes we read, " there is reason to believe that he was instrumental in winning souls to Christ in every Circuit in which he travelled. During the period in which he was Supernumerary, he was to the Preachers who laboured in the Circuit from time to time a most agreeable helper, meeting a class, visiting the sick, and preaching as his strength would permit. He was eminently zealous and humble, and as simple as a little child." Such was George Holder " one of the first preachers sent by Mr. Wesley to the Isle of Man." We find from this outline of work on the island that, as in England, the two decades after Wesley's death were years of greater progress than had been seen during his life time. It was during George Holder's ministry that the Island was divided into two circuits, Douglas and Ramsey, and the chapel at Ramsey was built.
A history of Wesleyan Methodism on the Isle of Man was published in 1849, consisting of a series of letters by the chairman of the District, James Rosser, to the Rev. George Marsden. It contains a description of the island and an outline of its history before coming to the introduction of Methodism in 1775. It was in that year that the Liverpool Methodists sent John Crook, the son of a doctor of Leigh (Lancs.), to the island as an Evangelist. His success in securing crowds to listen was immediate, for there was a great dearth of spiritual religion in spite of the devoted labours of Bishop Wilson for 58 years there (1697-1755), the first society was formed at Peel and at the end of Crook's year he returned to England, the Isle of Han becoming part of the Whitehaven Circuit, in which he was now travelling. In 1778 the island again became a circuit and John Crook returned for a three years' term to Douglas; persecution and the devotion of the churches had increased the membership to about 600, which increased to 1051 during the year 1778-9; by 1781 these numbers had increased to 1597, more than half what it is at the present day. It was in that year that Wesley paid his second visit to the island. (the first was in 1777),
In 1798 the island was divided into the Douglas and the Peel Circuits, when John Crook returned for the third time to the island, being appointed to Peel. He may well be called the apostle of the Isle of Man. George Holder had meanwhile been twice in the island and returned again in 1807. He is said to have been " specially suited to the Isle of Man appointment " and the work prospered under him. He spent nine years there and it is said that " there is reason to believe that he was instrumental ill winning souls to Christ in every circuit in which he travelled." By 1834 the membership had risen to 3,566, so that it was greater 100 years ago than it is to-day, in spite of the increase of population. In 1848 it had fallen to 3050 but it was reported that " the people called Ranters or Primitive Methodists have a good number of chapels in the island: and in several places have pretty large congregations, comparatively numerous societies and promising Sabbath Schools. Their ministers appear to be pious, diligent and useful men." A. W. HARRISON.