[From Manx Quarterly #5, 1908]

History of the Manx Police.

Seventy-five years ago, residents in Douglas were considerably perturbed because of the immunity which attended upon the evil practices of persons predacious of predilection, and the breaches of the peace which were evidently the rule rather than the exception, So much is to be gathered from the minute book of the Douglas Police Committee, 1833-34, now in the possession of Mr Duke, a retired sergeant of the Isle of Man Constabulary. Whoever compiled the committee's minutes wrote a fair clerkly hand, though the English of the record is not such as would pass muster with a stickler for syntax, In the early thirties, it would appear that the enforcement of the law in considerable measure depended upon the voluntary effort of the law-abiding, There were police in those days, but the precursors of Col, Freeth and his admirable force were but a feeble folk, The minute book opens as follows:-

At a numerous and highly-respectable meeting of the inhabitants of the Town (Douglas), held in the Court House, on Wednesday, the 6th November, 1833, convened by order of the High-Bailiff, to take into consideration the arrangements necessary for the appointment of an efficient police for the town, the High-Bailiff in the chair.

The Chairman opened the meeting by stating that the state of the town was such that prompt and effectual means should be adopted whereby the nightly marauder should be prevented from committing his nocturnal depredations, and the peace and security of the town restored and established, and suggested the necessity of having a station and lock-up house; and also an additional number of police-officers, for which purpose they should want means to support the same, a stated as an expression of public feeling on the subject that Mr Thomas Garret had alone in two days procured subscriptions to the amount of £90 0s 0d, a presented that gentleman with the than of the meeting for his services, and eluded by calling on the meeting to come forward to adopt every lawful means for their own protection and the public good.

After many remarks and observation from Sir William Hillary, Dr. Harrison Forbes, Burrows. J, Moore, Matthews, Whitcombe, M. Quayle, Duff, Garrett, Captains Muter and Tennison, and many other gentlemen, the following resolution were agreed upon

1. That the following gentlemen be appointed a committee, along with the High-Bailiff, to canvass the town for subscriptions, and to assist to organise a police establishment:-Capt. Muter, Capt. Tennison, - Whitcombe, Esq., Dr, Harrison, Mr Robert Cannell, Mr Thomas Garrett, Mr David Forbes, Mr William Quiggin, Mr John Duggan.

2, That the town be divided up into districts,

Then follows a list of the districts, and from the details a good idea is to be gathered of the size of Douglas in those days, Practically the whole town was then comprised by what is now the electoral district of South Douglas. The streets above Athol-street and Finch-road had no existence, but Prospect-hill, Finch-road, Woodbourne, Marina-terrace, and the Crescent are specifically mentioned, The somewhat unsavoury district about Wellington-square was then known as Wellington Gardens, while what is now Castle-street was then comprehensively termed "Kayll the Brewer's." Wellington-street was called sometimes Preaching House-lane and sometimes Factory-lane. In the 'thirties Moore's sail-cloth factory, subsequently removed to Tromode, was situate in the street.

A further resolution come to at the meeting was that a bill of £3 4s 6d, paid by Dr, Harrison for a private patrol, be paid out of the subscriptions received at the meeting; while another minute records the decision of the committee that the patrol continue their services, pro tempore, and be subject to the orders of Captains Muter and Tennison. It is also concisely set out "that Cleator be the head of the police," Mr Mark Quayle — an ancestor of Mr George H, Quayle, of Bridge House, Castletown — was authorised " to get a petition from the inhabitants of the town to the House of Keys, praying for a rate to be levied to support a police establishment," By the way, Mr Mark Quayle lived in a large house in Hanover-street, close to the present board school.

What would the ratepayers of these days say were Lord Raglan to trot out this precedent, as it were, for transferring the burden of maintaining the Isle of Man Constabulary from the Insular Exchequer to the rates?

Representatives of many of the people whose names are mentioned in the minutes either yet survive, or have died within recent years, Mr Robert Cannell was a tallow chandler, who owned a considerable amount of property in Douglas, Commonly he was called " Friendly Bob " — presumably on account of his amiable disposition, He lived in a house which in these days has been transformed into the Nelson-street portion of the Star Hotel, and his property extended from the foot of Prospect Hill up to and including the promises occupied by Messrs .Johnson, printers and stationers. One of his daughters became the first wife of the late 2111, Edward Gelling, merchant. An enthusiastic Wesleyan Methodist, he was very prominent among the Douglas followers of John Wesley during the first half of the nineteenth century.' Also was he a founder of the Lancasterian Free School in Athol-street, which subsequently became known as St. George's School. Mr David Forbes was a banker, his bank, which was known as Forbes' Bank, being carried on in premises in Lord-street. He was father of Professor Edward Forbes, the eminent biologist, Mr William Quiggin was uncle of the. late Mr, E. T. Quiggin, timber merchant. Dr. Harrison was father of the late Mr, J. C. T, Harrison, advocate, who died at Spring Valley, and, whose widow died at Mount Vernon. A daughter of Dr Harrison's was the late Mrs Moffatt, sister-in-law of Miss Moffatt, of Finch-road. Mr John Duggan, who acted as secretary of the committee, was a jovial and humorous auctioneer, usually called " Johnny Duggan." His office overlooked the Market Place and formed part of the old British Hotel property. The Cleator who was appointed as head of the police was father to the late Mr Charles Cleator, who for many years carried on the premier cabinetmaking business in Douglas, his workshops and showrooms being situate on the North Quay, at the point where Ridgeway-street opens, The High-Bailiff was Mr J, Quirk, who lived in Harold Tower. Mr J. Moore was in all probability the then owner of the Hills Estate. Mr Burrows was a leading merchant, his extensive business premises forming the corner of old Lord-street and Church-street. His residence was a fine old house in Fort-street, afterwards known and used as Maxwell's Boarding House, and subsequently as the Douglas Hospital, Mr William Duff was also a prominent merchant, who built and occupied Burleigh, Peel-road, now the residence of Deemster Callow. Captain Tennison was father-in-law to the late Dr Samuel C. Nelson, of Sydney Mount, Douglas. The practice established by Dr Nelson is still carried on by Dr Mackenzie. Mr Thomas Garrett was a brewer, his brewery being the premises in Strand-street, now occupied by Lipton's, Limited.

The next meeting was held on the 13th November, 1833, and it. was then reported that " liberal contributions had been made or promised." A committee was accordingly appointed to select " proper persons to serve as police officers." One member of the committee: was Mr F. Matthews, grandfather of Mr Arthur Matthews, of Glyn Moar, St. John's, A petition was decided upon at this meeting to the Governor and Legislature, praying for the levy of a rate on the town and parish " for the effectual preservation of the peace thereof,"

A week later, the committee decided to recommend the Lieut.-Governor to commission for the preservation of the peace the following persons — Thomas Cleator (superintendent), John Hackman, Moses Kennedy, and Thomas Christian, Up to a few years ago, people named Kennedy — probably descendants of Moses Kennedy lived on the North Quay. The pay of the constables was fixed at ten shillings per week — in those days fair wages — and a room in the Court House was procured for use as a police station,

The committee soon found that their duties were not merely nominal, as witness the following minute of 27th November, 1833: —

Upon the meeting of the committee this day, they were much displeased to learn that last night, about 11 o'clock, Moses Hennedy, whose wife came to the Station House, and using provoking language towards him, he attempted to strike her, upon which Cleator interfered, when the blow that was intended for Hennedy's wife struck Cleator in the eye, when the hind part of his head came into contact with the corner of a desk, which caused its bleeding most profusely. The High-Bailiff and Capt. Muter proceeded to see Cleator, and upon learning the particulars, but that Cleator begged forgiveness for Hennedy as the blow he received was not intended for him, the committee shortly afterwards sent for Hennedy, and after a very severe reprimand indeed, at which he appeared very penitent, they dismissed him upon the understanding that he should pay the expences for medicine and attendance upon Cleator, and if he again committed himself he would be dismissed the service.

The next minute in order clearly demonstrates that " Traa dy lhiooar " is not a modern Manx characteristic. It sets forth that the High-Bailiff promises to complete, within a few days, a set of instructions to officers, the outline of which had been approved by the committee. In lead pencil, this significant comment is added: "14 Feby not yet completed,"

On the 28th November, 1833, the committee came to the momentous decision to purchase "four top coats of pilot cloth" for the use of the constables. The minute to this effect contained the following prudent reservation : "The coats to be the property of the committee," The committee thus guarded against the men taking the coats along with their discharge.

Sartorial matters would appear to have frequently troubled the committee. On the 16th January, 1834, it is recorded, " a long discussion took place on presenting a bill for 4 hats for the policemen, a misunderstanding having arisen about the ordering of them, but it was ultimately decided that it should be paid, namely, 26s," A small matter, one would think, to induce long discussion, and yet, when we bear in mind the awful waste of time at meetings of present-day public bodies in talking over questions of even greater triviality than the ordering of four hats for policemen, we of the twentieth century cannot afford to even smile concerning the protraction of deliberations thus duly chronicled.

Poor Hennedy, the constable tied to a termagant wife, was again in trouble soon enough, The committee, on the 16th January, had under consideration " a riot that happened three nights ago, when it appeared from the statements of Capt. Gratrix and Phil Cottier that a person of the name of Quark, who was apprehended for riotous conduct, repeatedly struck Policeman Hennedy whilst in his custody on his way to the black hole, and finally made his escape. The committee in consequence decided that the said Quark should be rigorously prosecuted for his striking Hennedy, as also his assistants."

This is another of the minutes : — " Resolved that a dozen lanthorns of a much improved and peculiar kind, suitable for watchmen, should be ordered, that a sufficient number should be kept for this establishment, and the rest disposed of to the gentlemen who appear to be so desirous m have one each,"

Were the gentlemen who wanted the lanterns bent on bird-catching or amateur police work?

In those days they employed summary methods in dealing with persons who had promised to subscribe but had failed to keep their promises, The committee, at a meeting, duly considered default which lead been made in this respect, and decided Unit the persons who refused to pay their subscriptions "should be prosecuted for the same in the name of the treasurer,"

Boys were ever boys, as witness the following minute: — "That in future when sugars are a landing that a police officer shall be in attendance to prevent boys from pilfering, which practice has so long and shamefully prevailed in this town."

By August, 1834, the committee were troubled concerning their funds. Apparently subscriptions were then even harder to get in than now, Accordingly the constables were suspended from their more legitimate duties the while they endeavoured to collect the moneys which had been promised. The committee also decided that, in view of the fact that the Legislature of the Island had not taken steps to establish a permanent and efficient police force, a public meeting should be called to consider the whole situation,

This public meeting was held on the 8th September, and the proceedings at it are thus minuted : —


1. That the committee be requested to accept the best thanks of this meeting for their able and zealous conduct in the discharge of their trust during the last year,

2. That in consequence of the present system of police having generally produced such beneficial effects to the inhabitants of Douglas under existing circumstances, the meeting deems it expedient that the same plan shall be continued for another year.

3, That the present committee be requested to continue their services for another year, and that the subscribers to the last year's fund be called upon, and subscriptions generally be solicited for the support of the measure,

But the committee were evidently a cautious and circumspect body, Influenced, doubtless, by the difficulty which had been experienced in getting in subscriptions, the following letter was forwarded by certain of the members of the committee

Douglas, 1st October, 1834, Sir, — The funds raised last year for the maintenance of a police force being now exhausted, we, the undersigned members of the committee appointed for the management thereof, beg to resign our situations,

We are, Sir,

Yr obedt. servts, R. MUTER, B. TENNISON.


For over a year after this the police force would appear to have been in abeyance, and doubtless in the interval the lawlessly-disposed had a high old time. That such a condition of things obtained is to be inferred from the following, which is the last entry in the minute-book :— Whereas a number of robberies have occurred of late in town, and a public meeting of the inhabitants having been held in the Court House on the 6th, and by adjournment, on Monday, the 11th January, 1836, it was resolved that the town should be divided into districts, canvassed for subscriptions, and that a night watch should be established, and also that a memorial be got up to the Governor, Council, and House of Keys, praying that provision should be made for the support of an efficient permanent body of police. J, DUGGAN.

There is nothing in the book to show what was the outcome of the memorial to the Legislature, but probably it resulted in the establishment of a body of constabulary, of which the admirable force now controlled by Colonel Freeth is the development.


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