[From Rosser History of Wesleyan Methodism in IoM, 1848]
Agreeably to the promise contained in my last letter, I now proceed to lay before you some account of the Isle of Man, together with a brief description of its inhabitants, &c. This, however, especially so far as its early history is concerned, is not a very easy task; for, though legendary and superstitions accounts might be collected in great abundance, the materials for any thing like a clear and well authenticated history are neither the most copious nor satisfactory.
Of the geographical position of the Island- you are fully aware. It is situate in the Irish sea; its centre being in latitude 54' 15' north, and longitude 4' 30' west; and at nearly an equal distance from England and Ireland-about thirty miles ; rather less than twenty miles from Burrow Head, in, Scotland; and upwards of forty from Holyhead, in Wales. Its length from the Point of Ayre to the sound: of the Calf of Man is about thirty-three miles, and its greatest breadth rather more than twelve.
It is not clear from what its present name is derived. The names given to it at diferent periods are various, as is also the method of spelling that by which it is now commonly known. It is called Mona by Caesar, and Monabia by Pliny. In Ptolemy it is termed Monaida or Monaeda
but Oresius styles it Manavia. Bede speaks of two Menavian islands, and calls this the Northern Menavia, applying the epithet Southern to Anglesea. " In some copies of Ninnius, this isle is denominated Eybonia ; in others Menavia; but both are explained to mean Man. Alured of Beverley also speaks of it as one of the Menavian islands. The Britons, in their own language, called it Manaw, more properly Main. au, i.e., 'a little island,' which seems to be latinised in the word Menavia. All which clearly proves, that this small isle was early inhabited, and as well known to the rest of the world as either Britain or Ireland."1 The inhabitants themselves call it Mannin or Ellan Vannin Isle of Man. It is variously written Man and Mann, and in some public documents it is written Manne.
It is supposed to have been first inhabited by the ancient Scots, and there is good reason to conclude that the Druids, after their almost entire destruction by the Romans, during the first century, fled from the southern Mona and took shelter in the Isle of Man, " which then became, in place of Anglesea, the head-quarters of British Drudism."2 As you, Sir, very well know, the Druids were the prophets,' priests, and wise men of those early days, and it seems they immediately introduced their laws and various religious rites amongst the inhabitants of the northern Mona. They became the rulers of the people, and probably did their utmost to prevent them from holding intercourse with the neighbouring countries, which is perhaps the true reason why so little is said of the inhabitants of this island by early writers. So far, however, as we are able to judge, their government appears to have been mild and gentle, but the system introduced and fostered almost innumerable superstitions, which long survived their personal authority and power, and some of which have considerable influence even in the present enlightened period. Many monuments of their existence and power are still found in various parts of the Island.
Although, as above stated, the Druids bore rule, and had considerable power and authority in Mona, it seems that, occasionally at least, there were princes of the Scottish line who had possession of the government. This appears to have been the case with one of the name of Brule, or Brude, toward the close of the fourth century. Tradition teaches that early in the fifth century a number of Scots transported themselves to the Isle of Man, from Ireland, under the conduct of the soil of Alladius, a prince of that country. This adventurer is named Mannanan-beg-mac-y-Lheir " from his having first entered the island of Man, and from his great skill in navigation."3 The same tradition also says that "be was a magician, and kept the country covered with mists, so that the inhabitants of other places could never find it."4 He is represented as enacting various laws for the government of the island, and in other respects advancing its welfare. " He is said to have given a good reception to St. Patrick, by whom the natives were converted to Christianity."5
The sovereigns who ruled for some time after this period appear to have been for the most part of the same line with the king of Scotland, with which country they had come to have frequent intercourse ; aiding its monarchs in their wars, and being intrusted with the education of their princes in the time of peace. It appears, however, that owing to the troubles and changes which afterwards prevailed the island was annexed to the kingdom of North Wales. The dominion of the Welsh sovereigns came to an end in the early part of the tenth century, and was followed by the government of a succession of twelve princes of the line of Gorree, Orrey, or Orry ; son, it is said of the king of Norway.
" Gorree, Orrey, or Orry, who in the beginning of the tenth century, having conquered the Oreades and Hebrides, arrived on the shores of the Isle of Man with a fleet of strong ships, and landed at the Lhane in the north of the island. To him we are indebted for the Scandinavian character of the constitution of the Island. He established the House of Keys, the meeting of the Tynwald, and the division of the isle into six sheadings. His son Guttred, the founder of Castle Rushen in 947 succeeded him."6
Toward the end of the eleventh century Goddard Crovan, Chrouban, Crownan, or Cronan, son of Harold the Black of Iceland, became master of the island, and, whatever ingratitude and injustice marked his conquest, he appears to have governed with considerable ability and no little prudence. Some of the princes of this line, like most of the line of Gorree, Orrey, or Orry, appear to have acted as deputies of the kings of Norway, but others of them were feudatories of the kings of England. Magnus, the last of Crownan's line, did homage to Alexander III. of Scotland, and died in the year 1265. The year following Magnus VI. of Norway ceded to the king of Scotland and his heirs the Isle of Man with all its privileges ; and, as part of the kingdom of Scotland, it " came into the hands of Edward 1. who directed William Huntercumbe, guardian or warden of that isle for him, to restore it to John Baliol, who had done homage to him for the kingdom of Scotland."7
From that time till nearly the close of the fourteenth century it was sometimes subject to England, and sometimes to Scotland.
There were, however, still two female claimants, nearly related to the last two kings, Reginald and Magnus, who each claimed the sovereignty of the island. On application, to Edward, as superior lord, he commanded the parties to appear in the King's Bench. There is some uncertainty as to the process and termination of this suit, but one of the claimants, in a deed of gift, bearing date A.D. 1305, conveyed her right to sir Simon de Montacute ; and the rival claims were at length happily united, and set at rest, by the marriage of sir William de Montacute and the great grand daughter of Reginald. " The title was examined in parliament in the seventh of Edward III., and solemnly adjudged to William de Montacute to whom, by letters patent, dated the same year, that monarch released all claims whatsoever. In the succeeding reign, William Montacute, earl of Salisbury. sold it to sir William Scroop, afterwards earl of Wiltshire ; and upon his losing his head it was granted by Henry IV. to Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland: who being attainted, had, by the grace of that king, all his lands restored, except the Isle of Man, which the same monarch granted to sir John Stanley, to be held by him of the kings, his heirs and successors, by homage and a cast of falcons to be presented at every coronation. Thus it was possessed by this noble family who were created earls of Derby."8
James, the tenth earl of Derby, dying in 1735 without issue, "the kingdom of Man devolved on James Murray, second duke of Athol, who was descended from lady Amelia Sophia, youngest daughter of the noble James, seventh earl of Derby, who had been married to John, marquis of Athol. He succeeded to his father's titles and estates in 1724, and in the year 1736 came in for the lordship of Man in the manner just stated.
"During his reign illicit commerce very rapidly gained ground in the Isle of Man causing much annoyance to the British government, who made to him several overtures for the purchase of his rights in the Island, but without coming to any conclusion. James died in -1764, and leaving no male issue was succeeded by his nephew John in the dukedom. John having also married James's daughter Charlotte, the baroness Strange, in 1753, became also Lord of Man in his wife's right. The British government still continuing their overtures of purchase, the duke, beginning to fear lest if he were too pertinacious of his right he should lose all without any equivalent, at length agreed to surrender the revenues of the isle for £70,000, and an annuity to himself and duchess of £2,000. The title of lord of Man, the manorial rights, the patronage of the bishopric, mines, minerals, and treasure-trove, were still reserved by him on the honorary service of rendering a cast of falcon sat every coronation, and the annual payment of a rent of £1,01 15s. 1½d. The act by which this was accomplished, passed in January, 1765, is known by the name of the Act of Revestment. This was the third time that the island changed hands by purchase ; the two former instances being those of Alexander III. of Scotland, who gained it thus of the king of Norway ; and of sir William Scroop, who bought it of sir William Montacute.
" John, the third duke of Athol, dying in 1774, his son John succeeded to his title and estates. Under the conviction that the family had not received a suitable remuneration for their surrendered rights, lie petitioned parliament in 1781 and 1790 for a further allowance, but without success. At length in 1805, he obtained a grant of the fourth part of the revenues of the Island, afterwards commuted to £3,000 per annum for ever. However, in 1825, the duke acceded to a proposition made to him by the lords of the Treasury to purchase the whole of his remaining interest in the island for the sum of £416,114 ; and thus the Isle of Man became entirely and definitely, with all the rights and privileges of the royalty, vested in the British crown."9
Considerable changes have taken place since the Act of Revestment, and the local institutions are becoming increasingly adapted to the spirit and practice of the present age. From a very remote period the island has been governed by its own laws, and it has still the privilege of its own peculiar legislature . the enactments of which, however are subject to the decision, and require the approval of the crown.
"The civil government is vested in a Governor or Lieut.Governor, the Council, which consists of the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, the Attorney-General, Receiver-General, the two Deemsters, Clerk of the Rolls, the Water Bailiff Admiralty Judge, the Archdeacon, and the Vicar-General, -these constitute the upper branch of the legislature;- and the House of Keys, consisting of twenty-four, the lower branch. These estates together constitute a Tynwald, the acquiescence of whom, or of a majority of the members, is essential to every legislative act ; and the act having received the royal assent is promulgated in Manx and English from the Tynwald Hill.
" The Governor is Captain-General of all the troops on the island, and also of the constabulary force. He presides in all Courts of Tynwald, or legislature, in all Staff of Government Courts, Courts of General Gaol Delivery, and is ex-officio Judge in the Courts of Chancery and Exchequer. The Deemsters are officers of very extensive jurisdiction and high authority : they are chief justices and ancient popular magistrates of the island."10
The House of Keys is considered to represent the people, but vacancies are always filled up by a majority of the members nominating two persons, one of whom the Governor returns, and who, thereupon, takes his seat for life.
" Naturally the island is divided into two districts, a south-eastern and north-western, by the chain of mountains running through it. For civil purposes it is also divided into two districts, a southern and northern primarily, and these are subdivided into six sheadings, and again into seventeen parishes, Each district has its Deemster or Judge, each sheading its Coroner, and each parish its Captain, and Sumner, and Moar, i.e., Collector of Lord's Rent."'
I remember, Sir, you expressed yourself as being greatly pleased with the grand and varied scenery of the island; and, indeed, it is highly picturesque and beautiful ; ever presenting something new and lovely, even to those who have been long accustomed to trace the outline of its lofty mountains, and to stroll by the rivers and streams of its peaceful valleys and romantic glens.
The principal mountains are Sneafell, North Barrule, Bein-y-Phot or Pen-y-pot, Sartyll and South Barrule ; varying in height from one thousand five hundred and forty-five to upwards of two thousand feet above the level of the sea. Of these Sneafell or Snafield is the highest, and is covered to the very summit with tufts of cotton grass. When the weather is favourable not only may the various parts of the island be seen from the top of this mountain, but England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, may be clearly distinguished by the naked eye.
The island contains from one hundred and thirty thousand to one hundred and forty thousand statute acres, upwards of ninety thousand of which are in a state of cultivation, and produce large supplies of grain, &c. The mountains and common land afford good pasturage for sheep, thousands of which are fed in the island.
At the census of 1841 the population amounted to forty seven thousand nine hundred and eighty six, having increased upwards of six thousand in the preceding ten years, and I should think it must amount at the present time, to considerably more than fifty thousand.
The chief towns in the island are Douglas, Castletown, Ramsey, and Peel; all which are rapidly increasing in extent, population, and respectability.
Douglas is justly admired for its extensive and beautiful bay' and for the delightful scenery in its immediate neighbourhood; and is in many respects a place of great growing importance. Every accommodation is made for bathing, and for the general convenience and comfort of the thousands of visitors who annually avail themselves of its peculiar advantages.
Castletown is the seat of the government, and is renowned for its very ancient and strong castle, still in a good state of preservation, though some portions of it are said to have stood the storms and ravages of nine hundred years.
Peel is an interesting town, and specially famous for its castle and other extensive buildings, now in ruins. Few visitors will soon quite forget these interesting relies of bygone ages, or the story of the spectre-hound, the Mauthe Dhoo, or black dog, to which sir Walter Scott refers in the following lines
Like him of whom the story ran
That spake the spectre-hound in Man."
Nor will it fail to be remembered as the spot where Eleanor, duchess Gloucester, endured her long solitary confinement, and as standing peculiarly associated with the truly!y heroic countess of Derby. The cathedral of St. German, in which bishop Wilson was enthroned, stands within the castle enclosure, and has possessed considerable architectural beauty, but is now, like the castle itself, palace, and other buildings, in a state of ruin, and rapidly hastening to decay.
Ramsey and its vicinity are peculiarly pleasant, and present many attractions. The inhabitants may well be proud of the honour conferred upon them by the landing in their immediate neighbourhood, of the illustrious consort of our gracious sovereign, on her return from Scotland in the year 1847. If I rightly recollect, Sir, you greatly admired your ride from Ramsey to Douglas, by way of Sulby, Bishop's Court, Kirk Michael, &c, and I am not surprised that you should have done so, for it is a very agreeable, yea, delightful drive.
The coast is for the most part rocky and precipitous, and the island abounds with stone and various mineral productions. A few miles from Castletown there is a quarry of-~ Manx marble used for chimney-pieces, &c. It was from this quarry that the steps were furnished which are placed at the main entrance of St. Paul's in London, and which were presented by bishop Wilson to the dean and chapter of that splendid cathedral. There are mines in several parts of the island, in some of which operations are carried on with considerable spirit and facility, and to a large extent.
This is specially the case with the mines at Laxey and Foxdale. They are taken from the crown at a rent-charge of one tenth of the produce. They furnish lead and copper ore, zinc, &c., the lead ore containing a large quantity of silver.
"The island has several beautiful, though not very considerable, rivers, and there is in most parts, a good supply of excellent water. Like Ireland it is exempt from toads and venomous reptiles.
The air in general is dry, pure, and bracing, though occasionally damp, and sometimes violent winds and heavy rains prevail ; but it seldom happens that either the cold or heat is so intense as in most parts of England.
The natives generally are a healthy, hardy race, frugal and industrious in their habits, and many of them live to a very advanced age. They seldom make large professions of affection and liberality, but are, nevertheless, with few exceptions, very kind and hospitable, and they are not often exceeded for uprightness and good common sense. The following Manx proverb has long been used:-" Tra ta yn derry Yought cooricy lesh bought elley, ta Jee hene garaghtee," i.e., when one poor man relieves another, God himself rejoices at it, or, laughs outright.
The herring fishery is carried on to an amazing extent, and is sometimes astonishingly productive, to the great advantage of private individuals, and the benefit of the whole community. Several hundred boats, and some thousands of men are employed in the trade, and I feel assured you will rejoice to learn that such are the views entertained of the sacred character of the Sabbath day, that it is the established custom for the fishermen never to go out on the Saturday or Sunday evenings ; and when going out to their hazardous employment, it is their usual practice to offer up a short prayer for the divine protection and blessing.
There are no toll-gates in the island, and travellers may drive in all directions without the least charge or interruption. The roads are kept, notwithstanding, in good condition, and the expense is defrayed chiefly by a tax upon carriages at the rate of ten shillings for each pair of wheels, and a very moderate charge on every house.
"The inhabitants are altogether free from the English assessed taxes, and also from the stamp duty and the tax on income. There are other pecuniary exemptions of a similar kind. The Act of Mortmain, I believe, does not extend to this island, neither did the Registration and Marriage Act, passed in England a few years since, but acts very similar to the English Marriage and Registration Act, having received the royal assent, were published at a court held on Tynwald Hill, on the eighth day of March in this present year, 1849.
The ancient memorial ensign of the island was a ship in full sail, but this was exchanged by Alexander III., at the Scottish conquest, in the thirteenth century, for the present singular and well known device of three legs, with the motto, Quocunque Jeceris Stabit.
" The Manx is spoken generally in the mountain districts of the Isle of :Man, and in the north-western parishes. There are, however, few person - perhaps none of the young - who know no English. Its orthography does not appear to have been fixed on any sure principle, nor was it printed till just at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Bishop Wilson caused to be printed a small tract in Manx and English. Except one or two popular ballads, the earliest of which seems to have been composed in the' sixteenth century, there is no literature to reward the study of it."12
The language is no doubt of Celtic origin, and is said to be a dialect of the Erse or Gaelic. Most or all of the parish clergymen preach in Manx as well as English; but the probability is that in a few years it will become nearly extinct. A respectable parish clergyman, in the island, in a note written January 31st, this present year, 1849, says-" The language is getting rapidly into disuse. The rising generation will not speak it."
The island has the advantage of King William's College, and there are many very excellent schools.
There are several regular public journals of a respectable character, and which command an extensive and increasing circulation.
But I must conclude this long, letter by assuring you that
I remain, Dear Sir,With the highest esteem,Yours affectionately,J. R.
1 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
2 Knight's Pictorial England.
3 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
5 Cumming's Isle of Man.
6 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
7 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
8 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
9 Cumming's Isle of Man.
10 Quiggin's Guide
11 Cumming's Isle of Man.
12 Cumming's Isle of Man.