[From Rosser History of Wesleyan Methodism in IoM, 1848]
I now take up my pen to give you some account of the state of religion and morals in the Isle of Man before the introduction of Methodism, more especially during the life and labours of good bishop Wilson.
You, Sir, will readily admit that true religion is the root of all really virtuous practice, and the only sure source of happiness, security, and renown. The introduction and diffusion, therefore, of this invaluable blessing, whether considered in reference to communities or individuals, all must allow to be matters at once interesting and momentous.
It is in the case of the Isle of Man, is in many others of a similar kind, a very difficult, perhaps impossible, task, to state, distinctly and truly, by what particular means the Christian religion was first introduced amongst its inhabitants. It is not altogether improbable but that some knowledge of its glorious doctrines had been communicated at a very early period, but little dependence can be placed upon the accounts handed down by tradition on this subject.
There is scarcely any evidence to support the statement of Hector Boetius, though adopted by Spotswood and Buchanan, that the Scottish king Cratilinth, A.D. 277, exerted himself for the destruction of Druidism in the Isle of Man; and that he gave the island to a number of' Christian refugees who fled from the persecution of Dioclesian. Nor is there much better foundation for the story, of the conversion of Mordraius, a Manx king to the Christian faith.
There is a tradition that St. patrick was the honoured instrument of conferring upon the inhabitants of' the lslandthe knowledge of that glorious gospel by which "life and immortality" are brought to light and proclaims, "glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men." It is stated that when he was proceeding to Ireland for the second time, with a re-enforcement of thirty devoted followers, he was driven by stress of weather to seek shelter in the island ; that this took about A.D. 414; and that finding the inhabitants addicted to magic, and in the practice of various superstitions, under the direction and influence of -Mannanan-beg-inac-y-Lheir, he remained with them three years, and was the means of their conversion to the Christian faith. On leaving for Ireland, A.D. 447, he appointed Germanus, one of his followers, bishop of the island.
I will not trouble you with the wonderful story of Maughold, who was the fourth bishop of Man and other legends of these early times-times of darkness and superstition. I hasten to later days, and to events which has less of the marvellous, but more distinctness and truth.
Although popery prevailed in the Isle of Man as well as in the neighbouring countries, and the usurper Reginald in the early part of the thirteenth century, with great meanness and dishonesty, surrended the island to the pope, submitting that he and his heirs should hold it as a grant from the church of Rome, yet, I think it is not clear that the distinctive characteristics of popery ever had an extensive and overbearing influence in the Isle of Man, which they exercise in popish countries in general.
"The reformation was begun something later here than in England." 1
During the violent persecution which prevailed in England in the tune of queen Mary a Protestant clergyman, of the name of Allen, fled from the city of Norwich and took refuge in the Isle of Man. He settled at Castletown, where he opened a school. He is said to have been the first Protestant clergyman in the island, and it seems there was a regular succession of clergymen in his family from that time to the commencement of the present century. Some of his descendants are now residing in the island.
The troubles which prevailed in the reign of Charles the first, and for some time after his death, seriously affected the interests of the Isle of Man. James, the seventh earl of Derby, and lord of Man, was a decided loyalist, and devoted his wealth and influence to the royal cause. Falling into the hands of Cromwell's party, immediately after the fatal battle of Worcester, he was carried to Chester and sentenced by a junto of officers to be beheaded at Bolton, where the sentence was carried into execution, on the 16th of October, 1651. His noble countess undertook the defence of the Isle of Man against the hostile party; but on the arrival of the enemy's fleet the deputy-governor is said to have surrendered without making any resistance.
The see had become vacant in 1643, by the decease of Richard Parr, and remained unoccupied till 1661. Since that period "several distinguished men have filled the see of Sodor and Man. Barrow, Wilson, and Hildesley have been rarely surpassed by any bishops of the Christian church."' And yet, even during some portions of the time here alluded to, a feeling was manifested, and a line of conduct pursued, but ill according with the spirit and practice of the Christian religion.
The followers of George Fox, soon after they arose in England, " found their way to the Isle of Man, and were successful in converting several of the natives to their doctrines and mode of worship ; but they were not allowed to remain in peace. They were persecuted for conscience' sake not only by the bishop and clergy, but by the lord of the isle, and the heads of the government ; and the Quakers or Friends were ultimately banished, and their property confiscated. Such was the ill feeling with which they were pursued, that even royalty asked in vain for permission from the Earl of Derby for the return of one William Callow; but the Earl stated that as there was not one dissenter of any description in the island, he would not endanger its peace for the sake of one man."3 It appears they "were afterwards allowed to return, and take possession of their land, in the parish of Maughold, a small portion of which they subsequently enclosed and occupied as a burying-place. It is a small enclosure in the corner of a field, about a mile from the church, and is called Ruillick~ny-Quakeryn, signifying the grave yard of the Quakers." 4
In a communication5 received from Robert Fargher, Esq., of Douglas, on this subject , he says :-' I have in my possession a black letter bible, printed in 1630, on a blank page of which is the following memorandum :-' I William Callow, of Ballafield, a Manksman, who have been banished out of ye Isle of Man by ye bishop and priests for conscience towards God, above 2 years and 3 months from my dear wife and tender children, have bought this book, rate eight shillings and ten pence, in London, where I am now, this 4th day of the 11th month of the year 1667.' Other memorandums in this book shew that he afterwards returned to the island. I have also, in my possession a Quaker's license for a marriage that took place at Ballafoeyl in the year 1683.' "
The persecution which the Quakers endured appears to have raged with the greatest violence while Fairfax held the sovereignty of the island, in the time of Cromwell, and afterwards during the period that bishops Rutter and Barrow occupied the see. It is stated in the Abstract, of the Sufferings of the Quakers, that Catherine Evans was taken out of her bed in the night, and banished the island. James Lancaster was banished for coming thither, being a Quaker. Peter Cosnock and his son, wlth several others, were imprisoned at Castle-Peel by order of William Christian, and thence brought to Douglas and banished. John Christian was fined ten shillings for keeping a meeting in his house, and the rest of the Friends who met there were placed in the stocks. 1n 1664, William Callow, Evan Christian, and several others, were imprisoned by means of an order from two priests, judges of the Bishop's court, in Peel castle. The following is a copy of the order referred to
"We have received late orders from our Reverend Ordinary, to admonish the Quakers to conform and come to church, or be committed until they submit to law, and forasmuch as they refuse after several charges and publications in the parish church, but continue their meetings, and refractoriness to all government of the church, aid are therefore censured to be committed into St. Germain's prison, and there let them remain until orders be given to the contrary, and for so doing, this shall be your discharge.
P.S. - If they refuse to be committed by you, call for the assistance of a soldier from Captain Ascoe. Let the Sumner but this in execution immediately."
Several women were committed to prison, and confined in a low damp dungeon, under Peel castle. Numbers of these greatly persecuted individuals were driven about in a most unfeeling manner, suffering imprisonment, the loss of their property, and, for a time, banishment from the island. My plan, however, will not allow me to enlarge on this painful subject ; I therefore, proceed to the life and labours of Bishop Wilson,
Thomas Wilson, well known as the pious, charitable, and laborious bishop of Sodor and Man, was a native of Burton, in the county palatine of' Chester. He was born on the 20th of December, 1663, and was the child of parents who, though not oppressed with poverty, were far from being in what would be esteemed affluent circumstances. He speaks of them with marks of strong affection and lively gratitude, as "honest parents, fearing God," and never seems to have lost sight of his deep obligation to them for their parental care and pious counsels. It was his happiness to "fear the Lord from his youth." His classical education was received at an eminent school in Chester, and in due course he removed to the University of Dublin.
For some time he contemplated devoting himself to the medical profession, but becoming intimately acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Hewetson, archdeacon of Kildare, he was induced to decide upon the hi-lily responsible work and office of a Christian minister, and was ordained a deacon, June 29th, 1686. He had evidently affecting views of the great work to which he was now ordained, and wrote a very pious and suitable prayer on the occasion ; as will appear from the following quotation:-" Give me, O Lord, I humbly beg, a wise, a sober, a patient, an understanding, a devout, a religions, a courageous heart ; that I may instruct the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, bear with the infirmities of the weak, comfort the afflicted, confirm the strong ; that I may be an example of true piety, and sincere religion, that I may constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and cheerfully suffer for righteousness' sake. Let my great Lord and master, let his example, be always before my eyes. Let my daysbe spent in doning good, in visiting the sick, helping their infirmities, in composing differences, in preaching the glad tidings of salvation, and in all the works of mercy and charity, by which I shall be judged at the last.
Toward the end of the year. he removed from Dublin, and was licensed to the curacy of Newchurch, Parish of Winwick, in Lancashire ; of which his paternal uncle Dr. Sherlock was rector ; and though his income was small he cheerfully and faithfully devoted a certain portion of it to charitable objects.
He was ordained a priest in October, 1689, and after having for the space of five years, discharged in an exemplary manner the duties of a country curate, called to a very different sphere of honourable and holy service ; receiving the appointment of domestic chaplain to William earl of Derby, and preceptor to his son James lord Strange.
Mr. Wilson's charity kept pace with his augmented resources, and he now set apart one fifth of his entire income for benevolent and pious uses. During his immediate connexion, with the Derby family this pious and devoted servant of Christ acted with great diligence, prudence, and fidelity, which could not but produce a high opinion of his piety zeal, and disinterestedness; and there is, indeed, proof that this was really the case.
You will remember, my dear Sir, that at this time the right of nomination to the bishopric of Sodor and Man was vested in the earl of Derby. The see had been vacant for the period of four years, and the earl now offered the high preferment to his faithful chaplain, who respectfully, but firmly, declined the offer. The see continued vacant for a short time longer, till the archbishop of York complained to the king and the latter urged upon the earl of Derby the propriety and necessity of an immedite nomination. Upon this the earl again pressed the appointment upon his chaplain, and he, as he said, was "forced into the bishopric."
---- to be corrected
The new and important field of usefulness which now
1 Bishop Wilson's Isle of Man.
2 Penny Cyclopaedia.
3 Quiggin's Guide.
5 Train's Account of the Isle of Man.