Fifty Years Ago:
of the
Wesleyan Reform Agitation,

By the





Fifty Years Ago.

AS I am giving only a Reminiscence of the Reform Agitation of 1849 and 1850, I must assume that my readers know something of the sad import of those words. Never did our beloved Methodism pass through a more crucial ordeal than during that time. The evil spirit which the fly-sheets had been a chief cause of promoting, and which affected nearly every Circuit more or less, broke forth with such :force and fury that in those two years many thousands of Members were, lost to our Church. My Station was then at Canterbury; and, as in my Autobiography, I give a full account of the course I then took, and the manner in which the Circuit was saved from the effects of the Agitation, I shall now only give a brief sketch.

During my second year in Canterbury the Lord graciously visited us, and for months the good work went steadily on. Divine unction and power were felt in our ordinary services. On week-evenings we were sometimes cheered by souls brought to God. We had a Prayer Meeting on Monday and Friday: these also were seasons of special good. All our Sabbath School Teachers, and many of our Senior Scholars, were converted; and some fifty of these met in two Classes. Our Sabbath School and Church Officers were men truly devoted to their work.

Amid these triumphs of Divine Grace, tidings of the mischiefs wrought by the Agitators reached us from various places. Our people prayed that they might not visit us, and the Lord answered their prayers. In some few minds there was sympathy with certain aspects of the agitation; and lest these should be provoked into opposition, neither the Superintendent nor myself signed the President's Declaration as that was generally regarded as the declaration of war.

At the same time, my heart felt sad at the ruin wrought throughout most Circuits. My deepest sympathies were stirred for many of my brethren who had to contend with an opposition where meek submission would only have been met with insulting triumph by the enemies of peace. At the same time, I deeply deplored the lack of discretion and of kindly forbearance on the part of others, who, had they showed more of the meekness and gentleness of the Master, might have saved many of our people from the general wreck. To me it was matter of holy joy then, and of pleasing reminiscence now, that the course taken by my Superintendent and myself, by the blessing of God, resulted in keeping our Circuit in perfect peace.

' For some time before leaving Canterbury I had promised to go to the Leicester Circuit, but the Conference sent me to Castletown, Isle of Man.


We have seen how we were mercifully preserved in the Canterbury Circuit from the Reform Agitation. I soon found, however, that the distant surges of this violent storm had reached the shores of the Isle of Man. A small party, headed by one, who some years before had been put out of our Wesleyan ministry [Francis Ward ?], made a desperate effort to foment strife and dissension among our Manx Methodists. In this they were aided by the then Editor of the Mona's Herald [R Fargher], — a man of like passions with themselves, and who was only too glad to throw his Paper open for their use. The articles which thus came before the public were full of bitterness, slander, and misrepresentation.

One of our Douglas Leaders [John Cain] was known to be in sympathy with the Agitators. He was seen by the Ministers, kindly reasoned with, and patiently borne with; but all to no purpose. Seeing that longer forbearance would only add to his power to do mischief, he was served with charges in due form, in which he was accused of assorting with and abetting persons who were endeavouring to cast disgrace on the name of Wesleyan Methodism, and to injure its progress; of repudiating the character of the Wesleyan Ministry, calumniating the Conference, and withholding pecuniary supplies; and that in thus acting, whilst holding the office of Leader, his conduct was grieving to many of the Members of his Class, and highly calculated to turn them out of that course of godly discipline to which they had long been attached.

These charges were carefully gone into in a duly-constituted Methodist court. Nine out of eleven of the Leaders admitted that the charges were all proved to their satisfaction. One out of the two dissentients said " That he had made up his mind that he would never be a party to the expulsion of any man." The other dissentient gave it as his opinion " That all the charges were not proved." Hence nine out of eleven of his fellow Leaders, after patiently hearing the evidence and the defence, pronounced him guilty, and the Superintendent Minister a week afterwards, as required by rule, gave sentence of his expulsion from the Wesleyan Society

Soon afterwards a pamphlet was published and handed through the Island, in which this expelled Leader asserted that he was " condemned without a fault," after a "mock trial," that his "sentence was unjust," and his "expulsion against all law and equity," — all of which was the very reverse of truth. In addition to these falsehoods, the pamphlet maligned, in the most unsparing manner, the characters of the men who took part in this Leader's trial and expulsion. The most offensive epithets were applied to the Superintendent. He was exhibited as a vindictive persecutor, eager to wreak vengeance on a. defenceless victim. The other Ministers and some of his own Members came in for their share of abuse and misrepresentation.

At the time when the trial took place inflammatory bills were posted through the town. The Wesleyans of Douglas were called upon to attend, and stand up for their liberties, as another victim was to be offered up to the Conference Moloch, and one of their best members expelled, and when they would probably witness an outrageous burlesque upon all the forms of justice. This bill, as might be expected, drew together, not as the pamphlet asserted, "peaceable Wesleyans," but the rabble of the town, and the police had to be employed to protect members of the Leaders' Meeting against the violence of the mob.

These proceedings on the part of these self-styled Reformers confirmed me in the views I had previously entertained regarding the Agitation. I plainly saw that this was a fair specimen of what I had heard and read of as taking place in other parts of the Connexion; and that there could be no question as to the unchristian character of the Agitation. In fact, the tone and spirit of the pamphlet which justified and encouraged these proceedings may be fairly judged of from the last verse in a poem with which that precious publication closes. I give it with their own printed emphasis: —

"WITHHOLD THE CASH, that pays th' usurping priest,
STOP ALL SUPPLIES, and starve the wicked beast :
And cry with heart and voice,

Criticism on such a production as this would be waste of words ; it speaks for itself.

As the sale of this pamphlet was pushed by hawkers through all parts of the Island, and as many of the Manx Methodists had no means of testing the truth of its statements, we thought it quite necessary to expose its falsehoods and misrepresentations, and to give a fair statement of the entire case. This was done in a reply pamphlet, and happily with the best effect. The Manx people became fully aware of the nature of the Agitation, and the evil designs of its aiders and abettors, and further mischief was prevented. The Leader in question, and the ex-Methodist Preacher who was at the head of the movement, were the only persons it was needful to expel, and not more than eight or nine others withdrew with them. At the same time our Douglas congregations continued good, and a hallowed influence was felt in the public services : the Friday-night prayer meeting was well attended, and was eminently profitable; the Sabbath-evening prayer meeting was several times continued to a late hour, and even then concluded with reluctance, on account of the souls earnestly seeking the mercy of God. And despite all the attempts made to alienate the minds of the people from their Ministers, they still lived in their confidence and prayerful esteem.

With the following sentences our pamphlet closed: — Your Ministers deem no apology necessary for laying this pamphlet before you. Nothing but a sense of duty has induced them to send it forth. It is much more congenial to their feelings to be engaged in "feeding the flock over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers," than to be defending them from the attacks of those who are trying to make havoc among them. ' Still, one is not less the duty of the faithful Pastor than the other. While watching for your souls as those that must give account, they would not be guiltless, did they see you in danger from the °' cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive," and yet not put you on your guard. Having done this, they exhort you, instead of meddling with men who are given to change, to keep your minds and hearts fixed on better things. . . . Rest assured, brethren, our hearts' desire and prayer to God for you is, that you may he saved, — saved from sin, saved from error, saved with the full salvation of the Gospel of Christ. A Solemn sense of duty to you, to the public, and to themselves, has prompted them to submit this pamphlet to your notice; and praying that the Wesleyans of the Island, with themselves, may be richly endued with the Holy Spirit, they subscribe themselves


The pamphlet was written by myself and Theo. Talbot, and was published with the full concurrence of the Superintendent and our other colleagues. We were glad to find that it not only met with the hearty approval of our Methodist people throughout the Island, but helped to confirm them in their devotion to the Church of their choice.

At Castletown we had only one disturber of our peace; and we patiently bore with him as long as it was at all practicable. He was Leader of a Class at Ballasalla, and was under the direction of the Castletown Leaders' Meeting. He would receive and pay in what his members felt free to give, but refused to contribute anything himself. He had been borne with for nearly six months, when I had again to renew the tickets of his members. On the advice of his co-Leaders I was intending to give him a further trial. Nearly the whole of his Class was present.

I spoke plainly but kindly to him. At the same time I said, As you are sharing all the privileges of Church office and membership, but contribute nothing towards the expenses, I consider you are not worthy to receive your tickets." He at once dashed them on the table, and said, " If I am not worthy of my tickets, I will not have them." I took the tickets in my hand, and said, — " I accept your resignation. These are our recognised tokens of Church Membership ; and as you have thrown them from you in disdain, by so doing you are SELF-EXCLUDED."

So far as I remember, his Class remained faithful. I am not aware that any Member left the Society.

This self-excluded Leader now tried to do Methodism all the mischief he could. He got the factious Party to whom our pamphlet refers to come to Castletown to hold a Public Meeting, where he was to give an account of what he called his expulsion When the Meeting was held, I got our Circuit Steward, Wm. Creer, and a few others to attend the Meeting, to quietly watch proceedings, but advised them not to attempt to raise any debate. When it came off it proved to be so sorry an affair that I concluded the best way to deal with it, so as to prevent it doing us harm, was to treat it with a little caustic humour. For that purpose, I wrote the following verses, and our Castletown Circuit Steward had them printed and well circulated. They give a fair account of the Meeting as it was described to me. Happily they had the desired effect, and the Reform Agitation in Mona's Isle gave us little further trouble.


At Castletown the other day,
There was a wonderful essay,
Quite worthy of the muses lay,
A Meeting in a Hayloft.

Five noted men from Douglas Came,
To try to mend their injured fame,
And show that they were not to blame,
At a Meeting in a Hayloft.

And as nobody would consent
That any building should be lent
To serve their purpose, up they went
The ladder to the Hayloft.

But first they sent the Bellman round,
And, O how strangely it did sound,
To hear him cry to all around,
There's a Meeting in a Hayloft.

The tidings pleased the children well,
And they did one another tell,
Which did the number greatly swell,
At the Meeting in the Hayloft.

They say there was a SQUIRE there,
With BARRACK SERGEANT in the chair,
And the good people did so stare
To see them in a Hayloft.

But though they put on their best face,
And tried to cover their disgrace,
Folks thought it a befitting place
For them, up in a Hayloft.

There, these five men did spout away,
And many wicked things did say,
And yet they even dared to pray
At the Meeting in the Hayloft.

And Oh ! they did so spiteful seem,
Some evil spirit might have been
Charging them with Satanic spleen
For the Meeting in the Hayloft.

Freely they used the vulgar tongue,
And said the Preachers all were wrong,,
And many wicked things had done,
Which drove them to the Hayloft.

But though they made a great ado,
And said their story was all true,
Yet, whispered some, "that will not do,"
Not even in a Hayloft.

While these Reformers speechified,
Some grinn'd, some yawn'd, but others sighed,
To hear men's characters belied
At the Meeting in the Hayloft.

They then had a collection made,
To keep up the Reformer's trade,
But Oh t they got most poorly paid
At the Meeting in the Hayloft,

And when their orations all were o'er,
They marched out of the Hayloft door,
And people talked more and more,
Of this Meeting in the Hayloft.

Some said it was a silly thing,
A Squire frem Liverpool to bring,
And the Manx people's ears to din,
With the twaddle of the Hayloft,

Some said they'd better stay at home,
And keep to business of their own,
And not from place to place to roam,
To Meetings in a Hayloft.

And should they come this way again,
'Tis hoped they will be better men,
For all Good people do condemn
That Meeting in the Hayloft.

The Doomed Ship:


During my last year's term of service in Castletown a TERRIBLE CALAMITY occurred. A small brig, with a crew of thirteen, having been caught in a violent gale, was wrecked on Kitterland, a small island lying in the Sound, which lies between the Calf and the Isle of Man. She was laden with a cargo for barter on the West Coast of Africa, and had on board sixty tons of gunpowder. The violence of the storm carried her high up on the shelving rocks. Here a narrow channel ran between the ship and the higher land, and down this the billows rushed with fearful violence, but at each receding wave the channel was fordable. Watching their chance, the poor benumbed sailors made a rush for the higher land. Seven succeeded, when the captain made an attempt. He had with him an orphan boy whom he was taking on his first voyage to sea. With the boy in his arms he made a rush, but was caught by a wave, and before he could recover strength to proceed, was swept by the next wave into the Sound, and with the orphan boy in his arms sank beneath the foaming billows. The carpenter was crushed to death by the falling masts, and the cook and cabin boy were swept from the wreck and drowned. After several hours' exposure the eight sailors who had reached a place of safety, were fetched on shore by Manx fishermen, and were well cared for. Early the next morning, Mr. Lace, sub-agent for Lloyds, engaged a large party of men, chiefly from Port St. Mary, and made their way to the wreck, hoping to save most of the cargo. They knew the ship was part laden with gunpowder, and as there was a faint smell of fire they became alarmed. Some were for retiring, but the prospect of being well paid and the fear of being called cowards made them venture to remain. They could see through an opening in the vessel's hold that the powder was stored in the forepart, some distance from whence the smoke proceeded ; and by cutting a hole in the deck and pouring water down they hoped to quench the fire. But no sooner was the opening made than there followed a vivid flash, an expanding flame, a deafening roar, and ship and cargo were clean swept from the rocks, and only one survivor of the thirty men who had gone to save the cargo was left alive. He had gone to fetch a bucket and was returning. He stated that he saw no flash, but heard a report, and that when he recovered consciousness he felt like one awaking from sleep, and wondered what was the matter. His eyes were nearly closed, and he felt ' great pain in parts of his body, and finding something like water he began to wash his face, but instead of water, he was washing in blood flowing from wounds in his face and jaw. Some portion of the sixty tons of powder had been washed from the wreck, and part had been wet by the sea ; but not less than from forty to fifty tons had retained its full explosive force. Hence the shock was terrific, and the sight which followed awfully grand. Men came up from the lead mines to enquire if an earthquake had taken place. I was sixteen miles distant, and the bedroom shook as though a sack of wheat had been pitched on the floor. Two men who were asleep on a settle in a cottage some two miles distant, rushed out, and seeing the heavens all ablaze with the bale-goods which the powder had ignited, were filled with dismay. " What is it ? What is it?" exclaimed one. " What ? " was the reply ; "It must be the Coming of the Son of Man."

As I have given a full account of the wreck and explosion of this brig in my Autobiography, I will now add only what follows, the greater portion of which has been written for this pamphlet.


Soon after this calamity I carefully collected authentic particulars of the same, and published them in a pamphlet, to which I appended a Poem bearing the above title. The following selection describes only too faithfully the terror, suspense, and anguish felt by those whose kindred were known to have gone to the ill-fated ship.

Behind the adjacent hills, close by the sea,*
Oh ! heart-subduing scene of agony
Wives, mothers, children, sisters seek relief
In cries, and tears, and shrieks of frantic grief.
The shock that shook their houses, rent their hearts,
And pierced their bosoms as with thousand darts,
The heavens, sublimely radient o'er their head,
Gloom, worse than midnight, o'er their spirits spread;
And as around the burning fragments fell,
Each sight, each sound, gave forth death's deepest knell.
" My husband ! is he gone ? is he no more ?
Or is he standing on the neighbouring shore,
At a safe distance from the scene of woe,
Untouched, unhurt ? oh, is it ! is it so ? "
"My sons 1 my sons! this morning left their home,
And have both perished I am I left alone?
Oh haste, ye neighbours, haste, and bring me word,
Dreadful suspense, how keen thy two-edged sword "
One thought she saw a bleeding, mangled form
Stretched on the beach, and quite to shivers torn
Another fondly hop'd that life was spared,
Though limbs were shatter'd and the beauty marr'd ;
Imagination kindled all her fires,
And fancy played upon a thousand wires.
Quick as the Iair its equilibrium gains,
One mounts his steed, and eager snaps the reins,
Swift as his horse could speed, away he fled
" My father's there ! is he alive or dead ? "
Scarce have the fragments ceased to fall around,.
Before he treads the death-besprinkl'd ground ;
And while sad ruin meets his tearful eye,
" Oh, where's my father? " is the frantic cry.
Pale with anxiety, panting for breath,
Kindred came hastening towards the scene of death
Each heart alone its bitterness can know,
But here all drain a. cup of general woe.
As each comes up, — " Where is he? " rends the air,.
And solemn silence faintly whispers — ," Where?"
In vain they ask, they search, but all in vaån,
No traveller from that bourne returns again.
The gulf -stream rushes through the narrow Sound„
The blacken'd rocks as tombstones stand around,
The sea-fowl, loudly screaming overhead,
Sing dolorously the requiem of the dead.
Guns, cutlasses, a limb, a blacken'd bone,
Promiscuous strewn, proclaim — "Death reigns alone."
Yet not alone ; of thirty, one remains,
Cover'd with bruises, rack'd with keenest pains,
Sitting unconscious near the rushing flood,
Washing his face in streams of his own blood.
Loud was the cry, piercing was the wail,
When each had learn'd her portion of the tale,
As when the Angel over Egypt fled,
Scarcely a house but one was written " Dead,"
St. Mary's first-born, and her strength and pride,
Healthy and vigorous, in a moment died.
When Death his summons brings to call away
Some lov'd one, whom we wish on earth to stay,
The stroke falls lighter, when the work is slow,
And pain and weakness cry, — " Ah, let him go ! "
His lingering illness slackens, one by one,
Each cord that holds him, — gently is it done !
And when an unseen hand unties the last,
Submission sighs, — " Death's bitterness is past."
The words he spoke, the thoughtful smiles he gave,
Like flowers, bestrew his passage to the grave;
And as we press them to the aching heart,
Their balmly fragrance heals with pleasing smart.
HERE, no such soothing recollections cling,
Sudden their exit I earth and heaven ring I
And smoke, and flame, and limbs, and blood, and life,
All rise, and rend, and rush in general strife.
While mangled fragments, — lo ! — but few remain,
Add keenest anguish to death's parting pain,
No final token, no last fond "farewell,"
The mind recoils while on their end we dwell,
No dying signal pointing to the sky,
They live, — a flash ! a fear ! a groan ! they die.
THEIR dying-bed, — Kitterland's rugged rock !
The herald of THEIR, death, — terrific shock !
From sight of THEIR remains love turns away,
Within THEIR death-room all refuse to stay.
Four bodies left, left to repose alone,
So torn, so shatter'd, — who can tell her own ?
No features left, scarce shape or manly form,
A knife, a vest, a coat to tatters torn,
Reveal th' appalling truth, throw doubt aside,
And tell who by the dread explosion died.
The preceding lines are only a brief selection from the poem I wrote on the sad catastrophe. The account which I then published of the wreck of that ill-fated ship, and the poem appended thereto, were widely circulated through the island. Public sympathy was awakened, and £4,000 were raised to meet the need of the relatives of those who, in so tragic a form, were called away.1 accepted my appointment to the Isle of Man withoa murmur, and took with me a peaceful conscience and a happy soul. After 41 years' Circuit work I retired at Pontefract. Here I have tried to do the Master's will in the pulpit and in the sick-room. Now, far on in the eventide there is light, — calm, clear, Heaven-shed light. A little longer, and to ! the glory of an eternal day will follow.

* Port St. Mary.



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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