[note this page forms a slightly updated section of my paper delivered to Manx Methodist Historical Society AGM, Nov 1998 - see index for other sections and actual returns]

Manx Background


The previous section gave an overview of the English and Welsh census - this section covers the insular census returns. The Island comprises some 220 sq. miles and when compared with the old English counties the Island is larger than Rutland but smaller than all other English counties. The total population in 1851 was 52,387.

The 1851 religious census was not quite the first for John Wesley writes in his Journal for 1781

A more loving, simple-hearted people than this I never saw - and no wonder; for they have but six papists and no dissenters on the Island.
The isle is supposed to have thirty thousand inhabitants. Allowing half of them to be adults, and our societies to contain one or two and twenty hundred members, what a fair proportion is this! What has been seen like this, in any part of Great Britain or Ireland ?

He may have correct in the absence of non-conformists though in 1779 a Benedictine monk, Father Johnston, who served the mission at St Begh's Whitehaven, started to make regular pastoral calls and noted some 29 Catholics living on the Island.11

The Religious and Educational censuses were taken in Man as part of the 1851 decennial census but apparently were not published - for the population census the Island was included under the heading Offshore Islands but no such corresponding section of the Religious Census was given.

As part of the transfer of documents from the UK Public Records Office to the Island, what appears to be the registrar's tabulated figures (not the actual returns) were included within the 1851 census returns which were transferred to the Manx Museum Library. These returned documents were not closely examined at the time as the Museum already had a copy of the 1851 population returns taken locally prior to their transmission to London. Thus they came to light only in 1997.

The documents consist of census forms for Anglican churches and manuscript summary tables for Chapels. They are all in the same hand thus the Anglican forms must be copies rather than originals. Many of the Anglican returns included some comment, e.g. excusing poor attendance by the poor weather on that day, or that it was a Manx language service; although a field marked 'notes' was on the summary sheets no remarks were entered against chapels. The non-conformist returns (except for the Wesleyan Reformers) include only services held in specially built chapels - by 1851 both denominations had moved away from cottage or house meetings but some cottage meetings appeared to be planned in the Yn Phlan Beg but do not appear in the returns.

Before tabulating the returns the following sections offer a brief history of the various denominations.

Roman Catholics

Though the Island displayed considerable religious toleration12 and had none of the penal laws re Catholics that so disfigured the English Statute book, they were of course required to obey the ecclesiastical laws re attendance at church, places of marriage and burial etc.13

Roman Catholics were few in number in the late 18C - links with Ireland and Europe during the period of the 'running trade' (1690-1765) allowed a small nucleus at Douglas and there appeared to remain a small community at the south of the Island. After revestment14 numbers dropped however the influx of Irish from 1798 brought over considerable numbers. In 1789 an émigré priest, Father Louis, sought asylum from the French Revolution on the Island; for a time he acted as tutor to the Governor's and Bishop's children whilst living at Castle Rushen. He would offer Mass in a barn at Scarlett or at the cottage of some Catholic family. but appears to have left the Island before 1794. Around the early 1800's an influx of Irish, fleeing the Irish rebellion of 1798, brought the number of Catholics up to around 200 One of these families, the Fagans, brought over their chaplain, Father Collins, who until his death in 1811 seems to have ministered to the Irish fishing community of Castletown. He is buried near St Michael's, on Fort Island, which appears to have been regularly used as a chapel.

The first priest to reside in Douglas was Father Miles McPharlan - as Rev Demsey says his story is not without interest and is also linked to the Dublin rising. Lieutenant Major Taubman (of the Nunnery family) and a contingent from the Manx Fencibles were sent to Dublin where Major Taubman made Fr McPharlan's acquaintance (the story is that the Major was billeted in Father McPharlan's rooms though P. Kelly strongly doubts this aspect of the story). When Fr McPharlan fled to the Island around 1804, to escape debts incurred in setting up a brick factory for his Irish parish, he made contact with Major Taubman who gave a site for a chapel within a disused quarry on the Douglas-Castletown road. Eventually in 1814 the small chapel of St. Bridget was built though Fr McPharlan left around this time for France to better escape his creditors. In 1823 the Irish Jesuit College agreed to provide a resident priest, Father Gahan, who also opened St.Mary's in Castletown. Along with Fr Gahan came John Kelly who taught at a school, St. Mary's, established in Douglas in 1824 which attracted both Protestants as well as Catholics and became known for many years for the breadth of its curriculum. Fr. Gahan's generous Irish friends allowed the purchase of an old theatre at the corner of Athol Street and Prospect Hill which was adapted for use as Chapel and school in 1836. An additional footnote added to the second, 1841, edition of Quiggin's Guide noting this move stated that we are not aware of a single conversion of a native to Popery, having occurred on the Island..However Fr Gahan died in 1836 before the Church was fully ready, his memorial can be seen in the grounds of St Mary's - he was accorded a full and generous tribute in the radical Methodist Mona's Herald. The Irish famines of the 1840's further increased the Catholic population who towards the end of the century were swelled in the summer months by the every increasing tourists mainly from the North of England.

Post reformation the parishes became linked with Ireland, however since the 1850's, with the restoration of the English Hierarchy, the Island parishes were attached to the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

Established Church

The Island is divided between 17 old parishes which division appears to have held since the formation of the Parish system in the 12th century (though Santon and Marown may be the result of a split in an earlier larger parish). Most parish divisions follow some feature of the land - e.g. Lonan is the basin of the Laxey River, Onchan that of the basin of the Groudle and Malew that of the Silverburn. The role of the sheading,15 parish and farm boundary in forming the basis of the Derby Lords' rent collection preserved the system from the 1420's; thus the parish boundaries changed little until the 19th century since when, sometimes after acrimonious disputes especially in Douglas, new parishes have been formed in the towns, and some older rural chapelries upgraded. Non-Manx readers should note the considerable differences between English villages centred around their parish church and the parishes on the Island. In only five of the parishes is there any sign of a village around the church and none of these, excepting Kirk Michael, follows the English pattern. The parish churches would appear to be on the sites of earlier keeills (or chapels) of which the Island has over 200 many of which are on the sites of pre-Norse chapels. Most of these keeills served a local farming community and are located on farm land. However some sites were more obviously chosen for their spectacular setting - the western Celtic tradition of veneration for wells and springs is also apparent. Parish churches are thus often some distance from population centres and although a program of church rebuilding was undertaken by Bishop Ward in the 1830's only in two cases were the churches moved to new sites somewhat closer to population centres. The towns, except Peel, were served by Chapels of Ease. Douglas fuelled initially by the running trade, quickly became the major port for the Island; church accommodation had difficulty keeping up with the growth of the early 19th century.

The island being somewhat distant from London saw only slow changes during the Reformation (the Stanleys were strongly Catholic until late in Elizabeth's reign), and its Church remained 'high' church until the beginning of the 19th century though some, notably Mackenzie16 and W.T. Radcliffe17 reflecting the stong 'anti-popish' views of the mid 19th century attempt to portray the first Stanleys as protoreformers when they delimited the power of the Ecclesiastical Barons.. The bishop had considerable say in the government of the Island and often acted in an autocratic, though usually benign manner. Bishop Wilson, 1698-1755, and his successor Bishop Hildesley, 1755-1772, were men of high calibre - Bishop Wilson managed to keep church discipline going in the Island for many years after it had effectively died in England though he had some determined opposition from the civil authorities. The requirement for incumbents to preach in Manx also virtually restricted the choice of clergy to local Manx born and Wilson organised suitable training. Although the Athols who inherited the Lordship of Man in 1736 had got off to a good start in the appointment of Bishop Hildesley who oversaw the translation of the Bible into Manx, subsequent Bishops were of much lower calibre and the church sank in esteem. Hildesley's successor Richmond, 1773-80, was much disliked by his clergy and under him church discipline rapidly failed; he was also strong in opposition to the rapidly growing Methodists. Bishop Mason who followed him was also strongly opposed but died suddenly after a short three years in office. The next 29 years were under Bishop Crigan, supposedly appointed as a stopgap whilst the Duchess of Athol waited for her son, Lord George Murray, to reach the canonical age for appointment as Bishop (the Murrays were notorious for nepotism) - after a brief period as Archdeacon of Man, Murray was given St Davids but died in 1803. Crigan's health suddenly improved on the Island and although a pleasant and well liked person he made no impact and the church drifted - his task was certainly not eased by the constant strife between his patron the Duke of Athol, appointed Governor in chief in 1798 and the House of Keys. The following appointment of the young (24 year old!) Bishop George Murray - the nephew of the 4th Duke of Athol was a disaster, as Bishop Murray attempted to take tithes on all green crops including the all important potato crop. This provoked riots in 1825 and he left for Rochester in 1827. The English Crown had by then acquired the rights of appointment and appointed Bishop Ward who realising that accommodation in the churches was inadequate18 commenced on a round of church building. A copy of a letter of Bishop Ward19 [nd but c.1830]sums up the situation as he found it:

When B. Wilson died four score years ago there was scarcely chapel room for the people, at least not enough; they were then 20,000. There has been scarcely a church built or enlarged since and now the population is 50,000 souls.
The consequence of this neglect is dilapidated churches and not enough room for a sixth part of the people.
You may easily conceive the consequences of this. Schism has crept in, John Wesleys Methodism has sprung up. But such is the attraction and veneration of the people for the church and her ordinances, retaining still a tincture of the Wilson school, that as soon as the church bell rings on the Sabbath they shut up their meeting houses and repair to the church.
As many of them are in sympathy and they never receive the sacrament but in church. So that I know as soon as I can provide churches for them they will return to the true faith.

Most of these churches were designed by John Welch who described his employer:

An ordinary man, with the common tact and generalship of the world, would have acquired immortality by half this amount of beneficial labour properly applied; but strange to say, this ecclesiastical Hercules, who sows churches and ministers over the country as Deucalion would sow teeth, is scarcely thanked for what he has done.20

The 1835 Commission on the Church of England recommended that the ancient diocese of Sodor and Man be merged with Carlisle on the death of Bishop Ward and this was passed into law by Westminster. A determined action by Bishop Ward and friends saw this part of the bill repealed Subsequent Bishops stayed but short periods, often using the relatively poor diocese as a stepping stone to richer livings elsewhere. At the time of the census Bishop Auckland was in the middle of his term (1847-1854).

Old Dissent

The small group of Maughold Quakers had been effectively suppressed by Earl Charles21 prior to the arrival of Bishop Wilson in 1698, who soon seems to brought any remaining members back into the established church. Subsequent attempts to convert the Manx met with polite indifference..

Though well established on the neighbouring coast, especially in Lancashire, dissenting sects were a late introduction on the Island with two main sects, the Congregationalists and the Presbyterian, establishing themselves in Man from the early 19th Century - the Unitarians briefly established themselves towards the end of the 19th Century but were not present in 1851, Baptists too only established their first church in the 1880's well after the census though Johnson in his guide of 1850 refers to a Baptist congregation meeting in Douglas in 1850 and there is reference in Mona's Herald 22 of 1849 to a rented room in the Oddfellows' Hall Athol Street (later the Courthouse) being used for services - the 1851 census also included a Thomas Burneys, who describes himself as Lodging-house Keeper and Baptist Minister.

Congregationalists, who have their roots in 16th Century England, took their name from the substitution of 'Congregation' for 'Church' by these English reformers. Each Congregation was independent in the management of its own affairs hence the common epithet 'Independents' with some chapels known as 'Independent Chapels'. Congregationalism really began on the Island with the appointment of Samuel Haining as Minister in 1808. They opened their first chapel in 1813 in Athol Street Douglas from whence the congregation, after what appears to be some form of split, moved to Finch Road (now demolished) in 1866 and also to another chapel, also now demolished, in Circular Road; a small chapel was also built in Union Mills. The early history of the Congregationalists is given in the following quote from Nightingale

In the year 1804, the Rev. Samuel Haining, then a student at Edinburgh, visited the Island to ascertain the state of religion, and to try what could be done to establish a Christian society regulated by New Testament principles. He preached throughout the Island for a few weeks, and then returned to finish his studies. Application was made to him by some who had heard him preach to come amongst them, and, being advised by Christian friends to do so, he complied, and laboured in the different parts of the Island. A church was formed in Douglas on Congregational principles, consisting of eight members, and he was ordained to the pastoral care of the church on the 15th August, 1808,... Four places of worship were occupied before a chapel was built, which was begun in 1811, and opened for worship in the month of January, 1813.

Samuel Haining died in 1846 leaving something of a vacuum which was filled by the Rev. Mr. Harrison, who had been educated at Rotherham College. Again quoting Nightingale:

Trouble arising, he resigned after two or three years, and the chapel was closed for several months. It was about this time that the Rev. W. C. Stallybrass came to be tutor to the family of Mr. Jackson, of Falcon Cliff. Mr. Jackson had ceased to attend Athol Street, and with him came into existence Cliff Chapel, of which Mr. Stallybrass was minister for a short time. In 1850, however, the Athol Street friends invited him to the pastorale of the church there. The invitation was accepted, and Mr. Stallybrass began his labours on July 11th of that year. At Cliff Chapel, the Rev. Robert Chamberlain became his successor.

Mr John Jackson was the manager of the Bank of Mona , who had left Atholl Street chapel following the death of Mr Haining and opened his own chapel in 1846. Following closure of the chapel in 1852 it was "transformed into an entrance to Falcon Cliff Hotel grounds."

Presbyterians have a Scottish background and rejected the Episcopal arrangement of the Established church. They were governed by Presbyters in which no higher order than 'Elder' was recognised. However each congregation was governed by its Session (Minister plus Elders) which was subordinate to the Presbytery which was subject to Synod which in turn could be over-ruled by the General Assembly.

Scottish Presbyterians would appear to have commenced meetings in Douglas in 1763 [Roscow] but seem to have had few members as the minister left in 1765; they tried again in 1788 but again the congregation soon faltered. The Presbyterian church in Douglas can fairly be put down to one man - James McCrone - who came over in 1817 as Crown Agent and commissioner for the Governor the fourth Duke of Athol and his Nephew the young and inexperienced Bishop Murray. Mr McCrone for all his probity has gained a reputation as a hard man, Thomas Kelly one of the early emigrants to Ohio, writing in 1827. invokes him with distaste23. McCrone and his wife, the daughter of a London minister; would appear to be have been members of Samuel Haining's congregation from 1817 until 1825. However in that year, he and others, presumably Scots, founded a small congregation and in 1829 they underwrote the costs of inviting Rev B. Mellis for a year. He also appealed to the Presbytery in Edinburgh for assistance. The early history was given by Train:

Previous to the year 1830, there was no presbyters church in Douglas in connection with the Kirk of Scotland although a large room had been for some time previously used as a place of worship. In that year, a subscription was commenced for the erection of a church and manse, by the late Mr. James M'Crone, crown agent in the Island, by whose indefatigable exertions, as well among the Scotch families resident in the Island as with the government, a sum was obtained sufficient to warrant the commencement of these buildings. In the course of the following season, both kirk and manse were erected-the former capable of accommodating three hundred persons and the latter equalling in its accommodations the generality of the manses in Scotland. They stand at the south end of Finch-road, commanding an extensive and interesting view of the bay and of the distant ocean. The congregation is inconnection with the presbytery of Lancashire.24

Much of the money came from Scotland though McCrone managed to obtain £100 from the British Government.

There was also a Presbyterian church in Ramsey which seems to date from around 1829 when a number of ex-patriot Scots fishermen petitioned the Wigtown Presbytery for help in founding a church. This led to the foundation of a church to accommodate 230 persons, opened in 1837, though there were significant breaks in the provision of a full time pastor. This church was replaced in 1886 by the present building and became Quine's hall.


The first Methodist preacher arrived in 1758 but decided there was little probability of doing any considerable good while the whole island was a nest of smugglers. It was left to John Crook, sent by Liverpool Methodists in 1775, to have any real effect. His second visit in 1776 provoked some decided opposition, especially from Bishop Richmond who issued, in Moore's words an intolerant and violent pastoral letter to the clergy demanding that they expel any Methodists from their parish. However several of the clergy, and the Governor were more friendly towards him. In 1778 the Island was entered as a separate circuit with John Crook and Robert Dall appointed as preachers for a three year period. Wesley himself visited in 1777 and again in 1781 by which time there were some 1600 members on the Island. It was Wesley, who being in good political standing thanks to his support of the English position in the American War of Independence, managed to defuse some of the persecution of Crook.

A history of the Manx Wesleyan Methodists up to 1848 is provided by J Rosser.

Following the death of Wesley the Methodist connexion saw several factions develop; the first was the Methodist New Connexion, under Alexander Kilham, in 1797, the Primitive Methodists under Hugh Bourne and William Clowes broke away in 1812 and in 1815 the Bible Christians (very much a Cornish group) did likewise. The MNC, though strong in Yorkshire and parts of Lancashire did not arrive on the Island until the very late 19th century when they formed a short lived IoM Mission.

Primitive Methodism arrived on the Island in 1822 and quickly established many meeting places and chapels. A brief history of the early days is given by Petty in 1859 and a fuller history by Curry in 1906/7. By the time of the census the Wesleyans appealed more towards the better-off working and lower middle class whilst the 'Prims' tended to be a working class, and in Man stronger in the south than the north of the Island, though for both Douglas was numerically their main strength (e.g. the Prims drew 30% of their total congregations in Douglas whereas this was only 18% of the Wesleyan) .

H.R. Oswald (a Presbyterian) writing in the 1830's says:

The Manx Methodists of his [Bishop Murray's] time could not be termed non-conformists, for, till very lately, none of them went as far to separate themselves entirely, but were regular attendants at the Divine service of the Establishment, and respected all her ordinances.

Multiple attendance, especially in rural areas, at both Chapel and Parish Church would appear to have been quite common and continued until much later in the century - many chapels choosing times of service so as not to clash with those of the Parish Church (see for example the times of service in the rural Wesleyan chapels).

The 1830's saw yet more agitation within the Wesleyans as the travelling preachers became more clerical and the centralising power of conference dominated over local circuits25 and made ever increasing demands for more money (summed up in the jibe 'The chapels are ours but the debts are yours').. A dispute over the installation of an organ in a Leeds chapel was the spark that provoked the Protestant Methodists who joined with the followers of Samuel Warren, another critic of the centralising power, to form the Wesley Methodist Association in 1832. Further disputes with the all powerful Jabez Bunting led to the expulsion of James Everett in 1849 who formed the short lived Wesley Methodist Reformers (merged with WMA in 1857). Some of these dispute spilt over to the Island with the expulsion of John Cain in 1835 and again in 1850's to give a short lived reform sect under Francis Ward, ironmonger, and one time Wesleyan travelling preacher. Robert Faragher writing in his Mona's Herald devoted considerable editorial space to this dissent and, as would have been expected of him, was in favour of the reformers.

Other Sects

The only sect that could have been expected to appear was the Mormons - the Island was missioned by John Taylor, an ex-Methodist preacher, in 1840 and some converts made (actual numbers are difficult to determine but likely to be around 20 families). John Taylor had married a Manx woman, which gave him an entree into the Island and several converts emigrated to Navoo in the early 1840's. The press response after an initial neutral period became decided hostile. In Jan 1845 the Manx Liberal carried a letter describing a Mormon New Year's party in the 'Old Club Room' Society Lane in some 150 persons, excluding Sunday school children, were present. In Quiggin's Guide (4th ed) of 1852 there is listed under ministers of religion, Latter Day Saints Mr J Kelly (who is also shown as a bookseller). However I could find no later press reference to any further meetings, but in an anti-Mormon tract 'Principles and Practices of Mormons Tested .."26 by Rev J. H. Gray, incumbent of St Barnabas which was originally published 1852 (and a new edition in 1856), we read "on Island ... about 120 members...place of assembly in Society Lane where a sign board advertises 'Latter Day Saints Meeting House'". Though Quiggin's guide states "they have no places of worship erected for themselves" - thus implying they met in rented rooms. Hence it would appear that they were missed in the census.

Plymouth Brethren are mentioned in the 1852 guide as being on the Island (I suspect in Peel) but no further details have yet been found.


  1. Although censuses had been taken much earlier (e.g. the well known one c. 1AD!) and Political Arithmetic (e.g. for calculation of Life tables) studied from 17th century it was the 19th century that saw the real development see T. M Porter 'The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900' Princeton (ISBN 0-691-02409-x) 1986
  2. An excellent survey of various topics connected with the Victorian censuses is given in: Local Communities in the Victorian Census Enumerators' Books ed D. Mills and K. Schurer 1996 (ISBN 0-904920-33-X) Local Population Studies Supplement (available via Dept of History University of Essex, Colchester UK)
  3. A.N. Laughton High Bailiff Laughton's Reminiscences Douglas 1916 see chapter VII
  4. Quoted by David Robinson in 'The 1851 Religious Census: Surrey'
  5. Census of Great Britain, 1851. Religious Worship in England and Wales. Report and Tables (PP1852-3), LXXXIX [1690]
  6. Thomas Davies minister of York Road Independent Chapel, Lambeth quoted by D. Robinson p liii.
  7. See extracts published in Religion in Victorian Britain III Sources pp313-321
  8. Table and other figures extracted from Coleman The Church of England in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
  9. J.A. Vickers The 1851 Religious Census
  10. see list of County Religious Census books - most appear to have been published within the last decade.
  11. See Demsey
  12. Waldron writing in 1720 notes, with some disquiet, that Catholic children were admitted to school and their religion apparently tolerated
  13. See Roscow - several Catholic priests were briefly imprisoned in 18th C for illegally celebrating marriage.
  14. The sale of the regalities by the Athol Lords to the English Crown in 1765 -a sale demanded by the British Government so they could more easily bring the running trade to an end.
  15. The Island was (and still is for some purposes) divided into six sheadings, this certainly had happened by 1422 Kinvig suggests that this derives from the Middle English scheding 'a division' and was introduced to the island at the beginning of the 15th century when Sir John Stanley became King of Man though Kneen considers that there is some evidence of earlier use.
  16. The Rev Mackenzie was associated with the Presbyterian church on the Island - See his notes to Vol III 'Legislation of Three Stanley Lords' of the Manx Society who inserted a special disclaimer stating that the views were not those of the society
  17. W.T. Radcliffe Ellan Vannin 1895 - Radcliffe, Manxborn was a distinguished Methodist minister.
  18. Church room only for about 9,000 with a population of 35,000 . In the town of Douglas, 7,000 population, church room for about 1,300, and no free seats, so the 4,000 poor were virtually excluded.
  19. Letter of Bishop Ward to Bishop Chase, Oberlin College Ohio; nd but by internal context c.1830. [Manx Musem MM MS2079B ]
  20. A Six day Tour by a Stranger 1836
  21. T Hodgkin Ruillick-ny-Quakeryn. Notes on the History of friends in the Isle of Man. Friends' Quarterly Examiner, October 1908 pp457-495
  22. Mona's Herald of 27 June 1849 has:
    The Baptist Society - This useful and influential section of the Christian Church have recently opened a place of worship in the large rooms connected with the Oddfellows' Hall in the town where divine service is celebrated on a Sunday.
  23. see letter The Manx Sun 18 March 1828
  24. Train History of the IoM vol 2 1845
  25. for a somewhat earlier example see Mercer's letter of 1820 quoted in Coakley Wesleyan Methodist Membership 1800-1820 Manx Methodist Historical Soc. Newsletter Autumn 1998 Jan 11 1845
  26. J.H.Gray "Principles and Practices of Mormons Tested: Two Lectures delivered before the Religious and Useful KnowledgeSociety of Douglas on Nov 24 and Dec 1st 1852 and published by request - 2nd edtion considerably enhanced" Douglas:M P Backwell 1856 (MM G88/1/GRA) - it may be the case that the 1st edition had more local information which was excised from the 2nd edition - interestingly this 2nd edition drew heavily on Gunnison's book which had just been published in 1852.


Back index next


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

Last update 7 March 1999