[From Manx Quarterly, #9 1910]


The interest in early history visits to the Isle of Man, which has been aroused by the eightieth anniversary of the formation of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co., has induced one of our correspondents to send us a summarised account of a series of articles which were written in 1821. They :appeared in "The Kaleidoscope," a -weekly magazine published in Liverpool, and were entitled "A Trip to the Isle of Man." The writer,whose identity is hidden under the modest initial " D " was acquainted with several of the better class people then resident in the Island, and during the greater part of his visit, here was a guest at Fort Anne, then occupied by a gentleman whom he alludes to as Captain Worthy, but, we believe, better known to fame as Sir William Hilary, the founder of the Lifeboat Institution. Others of his acquaintances are designated Commander Hearty, who resided at Mount Murray, where " D ' spent a couple of very pleasant days, and met with one or two humorous if not very stirring adventures; Sir John Cheery, Mr Logic, and "The Admiral." Under these evidently fictitious names, the reader who cares to look up a record of Douglas residents of ninety years ago will have little difficulty in recognising some of the leaders of local society in those days. Having said so much by way of introduction, we will now let " D " tell his own tale of his pleasure trip:-

The frequent and loud encomiums which I had heard passed upon the delights and pleasures of a trip to the fair Isle of Mona, and the excellent accomodations of the steam packets, impressed me with a longing desire to take a peep at this most enchanting of spots, for so I expected to find it from the accounts I had received. Accordingly, I took my passage in the [boat] and on the following morning, about half-an-hour before the appointed time of sailing, I went on board, -where I thought from appearances we were not likely to be overdone with passengers ; however, I soon discovered my mistake, for towards eight o'olock they came pouring in in torrents, until at last I verily began to think that the whole town of Liverpool was about to take an aquatic trip to the Isle of Man or Greenock.

Breakfast was served immediately after leaving the pier head, but before the meal was over the little steamer had run into rough water, and Father Neptune was levying toll on the passengers. When the usual time for dinner arrived, it was found impossible to lay the cloth in the cabin, which was full of sick people, and the repast was served on deck; to the further discomfort of a. few poor wretches who had recovered in a great measure from their indisposition. but were again seized with a second violent attack, which, in an instant dispelled every hungry wish and gormandizing desire.

" Pleasure-pleasure!" One great, big, farmer-like Yorkshireman exclaimed. " And this is what you call visiting the Isle of Man for pleasure! By -, if they would give me the whole Island, I would not come again.'


A few more hours of this kind of thing had to be passed, however, before the Isle of Man was reached, nor were their troubles ended when in the shelter of Douglas Bay, where, it being low water, the vessel was brought to an anchor, and the passengers landed in small boats. Many readers will still remember the discomfort attendant upon this method, even so late as the early 'seventies of last century, and may have taken part in a struggle similar to that which, took place all. the steps near the end of the Red Pier.

Scarcely had I put my foot upon the Pier when 1 was surrounded by a swarm of Manks porters, who, without any kind .of ceremony, whatever, laid violent hands upon every trunk and portmanteau that fell in their way, to the very great annoyance of the passengers. For my own part, I was under no small apprehension lest my luggage, through some strange fatality or other, should change masters. A Manchester man, who probably coincided with me in this opinion, gave striking proof of his resentment by causing an officious Manksman, who was deliberately walking off with his saddlebags, to " lick the dust," or in other words, felling him to the ground by a well-directed blow of his walking-stick.

Collecting his paraphernalia together, our author proceeded to the watch-house, where his luggage was subjected to examination by the Customs' officers. Surprised that in a country where excise duties were so trifling such procedure should be necessary, he inquired what species of goods strangers were likely to introduce clandestinely into the Island, and received the reply " French lace." No contraband being found concealed in his baggage, he passes from the watch-house and is led by the porter to a private house, where he obtains lodgings.

To be sure, the bed was none of the handsomest; neither was the furniture of the most modern or splendid description; but these were trifles of no moment ; the chamber presented a far greater advantage in my eyes, and one that, I am sorry to say, is seldom to be met with amongst the Manks, namely, cleanliness, and I felt perfectly satisfied with my quarters.

Roused from his slumbers at six o'clock next morning by the disagreeable tickling of the milkman's bell, " D " crosses the harbour and climbs to the summit of Douglas Head, the prospect. from which is made the subject of appreciative eulogy. Breakfast is taken at one of the principal inns (not named), the repast consisting of tea, coffee (none of the best), ham, herrings, eggs. and all the et ceteras.

The bread. was excellent.-in fact, the best I ever ate; the butter equally so; but the milk (I beg the landlady's pardon-cream I should have said) was the poorest I ever beheld; and from the sky-blue tinge upon its surface, I was inclined to think that the pump was the most useful and productive cow.

A somewhat similar complaint is more than, hinted at in the latest report of the Manx Inspector under the Adulteration Acts, ninety-years after " D" paid his first visit to the Isle of Man.


Requiring the services of a barber, `' D" inquired "the nearest road to the most fashionable operator in that line," and so made the acquaintance of an eccentric " character," traditions of whose fame still linger in the memories of elderly Douglas folk. This was Kewn the Barber," an adept at the pencil as well as the razor; and whose talent for caricaturing had on more than one occasion brought him into serious trouble. " D's" description of this individual is so quaint and interesting that a lengthy extract will be pardoned.

On my arrival at the shop of this eccentric being, I was somewhat struck at the words " New Bond Street," painted in large characters over the portal, whilst the following tempting invitation was prominently displayed in the centre of the window :-

KEWN, Superior Hair Cutter from Waterloo. Rather an ominous inscription, I must confess where sharp-edged instruments are in requisition. Various specimens of his art in the caricaturing department, and his own likeness, taken by himself, were here and there tastefully arranged in order "to make up a show." I had expected to find this same knight of the razor, like most of his brotherhood a very communicative sorts of personage, but in this I was deceived. " A fine day this-pleasant weather-have you been long in Douglas-good drawing that" (pointing to one of his own productions), formed the leading features of his conversation.


One thing, however, of importance I contrived to get out of him; namely, that the people here were very much addicted to scandal. A Manks poet, treating on this subject, makes use of the following lines:-

Let not the peaceful stranger hope to find
An Eden here, and saints of human kind;
No sooner is he landed on the quay
Than vigilant detraction grasps her prey.

When the foregoing verses were penned, which, I imagine, must be several years ago, the Island afforded a safe and secure retreat to roguery and dishonesty of every description; and, therefore, it is not to be wondered at, if, at that period, the respectable part of the community were very circumspect and scrupulous whom they admitted into their society; and, I think, littleblame ought to be attacked to them on that account. under these circumstances, perhaps, the practice of slander alluded to by the poet, might then in some measure be palliated, though by no means justified. But as the law of protection, in such cases, is now done away with, it would be unfair and illiberal to infer that the same spirit of detraction exists at the present period Yet, I am sorry to say, there is a certain species of private scandal still prevalent amongst the Manks, or perhaps, more properly speaking, the inhabitants of the Island, which would do far greater honour both to their hearts and their heads were it consigned for ever to oblivion. The cool and forbidding reception that a stranger is apt to meet with on his first arrival must also be a matter of regret. as it often impresses him: with an. idea that the Manks are inhospitable -a charge, however, from which, from my own individual observation, I can fairly and honourably acquit them. A REAL Manksman, though shy at first sight, has only to be properly acquainted with You, and you will find him at once frank, free, and open-hearted.

Craving the readers' kind indulgence for this digression, I shall return to Mr Kewn, who certainly exemplified considerable skill in the handling of the razor, and acquitted himself very much to my satisfaction. Having remunerated him according to his deserts, I expressed a desire to see a few more specimens of his talent as an artist, to which request, with a smile of self-sufficiency, he readily assented. Producing his portfolio, he began, with all the importance of the barber and the artist, to bestow the most lavish enconiums on his own ingenuity ; such as " Very good thing that;-exceedingly like;-great taste displayed in the arrangement of the characters." "Admirable," answered I. " Ah !" says he, " I perceive you have a taste for drawing;-draws some little yourself, I presume." Thus he continued complimenting himself during the whole time I was ransacking his portfolio, which really contained some very odd and rather clever productions. Amongst the number I observed a caricature of the identical circumstance that took place on the quay the preceding evening, namely, the Manchester man belabouring the Manks porter; and which, barring a few bad outlines. was tolerably well executed, and with a considerable degree of truth. Thanking him for the gratification I had derived from the sight of his drawings, I wished him a good morning and set forth to explore the town.


Although Douglas, with its stone-coloured and rough-east buildings, when. viewed from the Head, gave the visitor considerable pleasure, closer acquaintance with its streets did not enhance his delight

The streets of Douglas are both confined and dirty, and are built without any regard whatsoever to regularity; that, in particular, which leads to the Post Office, is so extremely narrow that in the event of two vehicles coming in contact, one would have; to back out in order to let the other proceed. The houses, for the most part, are built of a kind of slate stone, which is procured in great abundance from the rocks in the immediate vicinity ; and when plastered over, and whitewashed, present a neat and pleasant appearance. The Pier is a most beautiful and splendid structure, and, for its size, is not equalled by anything of the kind in Liverpool. It is by far the most elegant and compact piece of workmanship that Douglas or even the whole Island can boast of. . There is a stone ridge extending from one end to the other, which, I presume, was intended as a resting place for the public; at least, such at present is the purpose to which it is applied, and a. most useful and delightful convenience it certainly is."

" Is it necessary to remind our younger readers that " D " is here referring to the Red Pier, now principally used as an open-air warehouse and landing wharfe for steamers but which in the first half of the last century was the fashionable promenade of the town ? So careful were our forefathers of its surface that in the early days ladies had to take off their pattens before they were permitted to walk on it.

The new theatre, established by Mr Newton, " fitted up in a style of elegance suited to the accommodation of the higher classes of society," and at which " the performers are numerous and respectable, in. many characters ranking far above mediocrity," receives the writer's hearty commendation, as does the newsroom "lately established." The assembly room ' at Dixon's Hotel," is very well adapted for its purpose, " but at present it stands greatly in need of beautifying." Being privileged to be present at the last subscription ball of the season held there, is highly pleased with the dancing of the ladies, but the gentlemen, he remarks, are not adepts in the elegant movements of the limbs." The Customs House, formerly the residence of the Duke of Atholl, and before the door of which two sentinels are posted, is pronounced " by far the best building in the town of Douglas," and the principal inns are the British Hotel, the York Hotel, and the Cumberland Tavern. In the market place, which is well supplied with poultry and vegetables, fine young ducks were to be had at the uncommonly cheap price of sixteen pence the couple, and other descriptions of poultry in the same proportion, but vegetables were about the same price as in England, green peas being three shillings and sixpence the peck.

The method of bringing lambs to market struck my attention as being rather ingenious; panniers made of straw, are neatly and firmly plaited together, are slung across the back of a horse or other animal, with a lamb in each pannier. Between these is not urrfrequently seated a comely dame, who thus jogs comfortably along to market with her livestock, pretty much in the same kind of style as our farmers' wives were wont to do with their eggs, etc., in the days of yore. The price usually given for a lamb is from eight to ten shillings, according to condition.

Having exhausted the attractions of Douglas the writer turned his attention to ether parts of the Island, and visited in turn the North, South, and West On his journey to Ramsey, the country girls excite his admiration. They are " exceedingly good-looking and possess a suavity of expression not often to be met with; the common practice, however, of walking considerable distances (often ten or twelve miles) on a hard road -without either shoes of stockings, from motives of economy, has rendered them very clumsy-looking about the feet and ankles."


An incident which he witnessed or this northward journey is cited as giving a "tolerably good idea of Manx cleanliness," but which is so utterly repulsive that we would gladly brand it as untrue, were we not convinced of the writer's accuracy:-

The day was sultry, and being half-choked with dust, I alighted at a thatched building where ales, spirits, etc , were retailed, and requested to be furnished with a glass of beer. the wretched hovel was filled with smoke; and there being no chimney, the only chance for its escape was through small crevice in the roof. On the hearth was a fire made of peat and faggots, upon which was boiling what appeared to me a large pot of broth. The family consisted of an old man and his wife, two grown-up sons, and a daughter somewhere about the age of sixteen. The eldest son was shaving his father with an instrument that some might term a razor, but which, if I may judge from the grimaces of the old man, was little better than a fragment of old iron. A shaving box was a commodity they were not blessed with but the purpose was fully answered by dipping a large piece of brown soap into the hot broth, and then giving the old boy's chin a, hearty lathering. The filthiness of this action so disconcerted me that I could not swallow half my beer; but, throwing down a penny, the price demanded; I quitted the miserable hut with feelings of disgust, and mounting my horse, pursued my journey to Ramsey.

The northern metropolis is described as a " very neat, clean-looking little town, far superior to Douglas in point of regularity." However, beyond the good accommodation which he found at the Mitre, " cleanliness good wines, moderate prices." our traveller found nothing to attract him at Ramsey, and soon returned to his comfortable quarters at Douglas. Castletown, which was next visited, although the capital of the Island, the seat of Government, :and the headquarters of the military, is described as a " very dull kind of a spot; the houses are, in general, good, and thw streets regularly built; but the inhabitants, generally speaking, are reserved in their manner; in point of gaiety and pleasant society, it is at least a century behind Douglas." Of course, Castle Rushen receives notice, and after recalling some of its history, our author, being a humane person, gives some attention to the condition of debtors imprisoned there!-

The apartments appropriated to the debtors are dull, dirty, and very indifferently ventilated, and altogether form a striking contrast to those in this country (!). In fact, the general condition of the debtors appears more like that of felons, and most certainly calls loudly for amelioration. One narrow bed is allotted to every two of these unfortunate people, and a, truly wretched affair it is. At the time I was in Castletown I believe there were only two felons in the Castle, a circumstance that redounds very much to the credit of the Manks as a people, as it plainly shows that crimes of a heinous nature are little known amongst them. I am not exactly aware for what amount a man may be thrown into gaol in the Isle of Man, but I have heard for so small a sum as five shillings or less.

The account of his visit to Peel, which he speaks of as " the poorest town in the Island," is almost entirely given up to a precise description of the old Castle, which appears to have been in a much more dilapidated condition than at present Acknowledging his indebtedness for hospitality and guidance to " Mr K-, of Raggett Farm," our author then waxes eloquent over the charms of the buxom landlady and her daughter of " The Highlander Inn," halfway between Peel and Douglas, and lingers so long over the creature comforts set before him at this place of entertainment for man and beast, that the remainder of his journey to Douglas is made through pitch darkness, and the good people of the town have long gone to rest when he arrives there. A walk through the Nunnery Grounds, and meditation among the tombs around the "pretty little church of Kirk Braddan," concludes this story of a visit to the Isle of Man eighty-nine years ago. If not particularly complimentary to our forefathers nor flattering to our ancestral pride, it is at any rate an interesting and, we believe, accurate description of life on the Island at a. time when its many natural charms as holiday resort were known only to a limited number of travellers.


Enquiries have been set on foot through the medium of the English newspaper Press to discover the oldest surviving passengers by the steamers of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co., whose eightieth anniversary was celebrated on Wednesday. It now appears that Mr William Heatherington. of 218 North Hill-street, Liverpool, is the oldest living passenger who has sailed by their steamers.

Up to recently, Alderman Wild, of Bolton, who crossed in 1832, was the oldest passenger to he found, but the place of honour is now held by Mr Heatherington, who, born in the year 1821, made the journey in August, 1830, on either the second or third passage of the original Mona's Isle, the company's first steamer. His mother was a Miss Vondy, of Ramsey, and he remembers Sir William Hilary, who lived at Douglas, and was one of the founders of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Captain Gill, who was the commander of the Mona's Isle, it is interesting to recall, discovered the present deep channel into the Mersey, now used by the great liners


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2002