[From Manx Quarterly, #12 June 1913]
Certain proceedings in the Chancery Division of the Isle of Man High Court recently, concerning the bequests of the late Peter Henry Joseph Baume, will remind the Manx generations of middle and more than middle age of the eccentric old foreigner who well-nigh forty years ago died in Douglas, and whose testamentary disposition of his property was designed with a view to benefiting the poor of the Isle of Man. Pierre Henri Josef Baume, to apply to his name accurate orthography, was a political refugee. Rumour which he never contradicted had it that Baume, in his early years, was a secret agent of one of the Kings of France who followed the downfall of Napoleon the Great, and the story was also rife that the outbreak of a revolution forced him to flee France for England. During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, political upheavals usually had unpleasant consequences for persons who had borne a prominent part in the governmental system swept away, and it was always understood that had not Mr. Baume hurriedly shaken the dust of Gaul from his feet and repaired to Perfidious Albion he would have stood a good chance of having his stature shortened by a head, through the medium of the Red Widow otherwise Madame La Guillotine. Be this as it may, he came to England, and lived for some time in London, here it is understood he engaged in intrigue and incidentally acquired some landed estate near Colney Hatch. Eventually he took up his residence in the Isle of Man, in the days when the cost of living ways considerably cheaper in the Island than it was in England. In all probability it was the comparatively low prices of the necessaries of life which induced this gentleman of France to domicile himself in Mona. He was, during his residence in Douglas, ever of a penurious turn of mind, and, during the last twenty-five years of his life he developed into a miser of parts. More than passing rich, he occupied a loft in a house situated over the South Quay Archway, and this room so the few who were privileged to enter it were wont to aver was poverty-stricken in appearance to a degree. Baume's food was just sufficient of quantity to maintain life, while its quality would have revolted the hungriest of ordinary mendicants. What time he made up his mind to feast, he employed boys to gather for him snails not the helix pomatia or edible snail, but just the common variety of the spiral mollusc which is the despair of Manx gardeners. He paid for these at the rate of one penny per pint, and the youths who collected them for him placed them in a tin can which he lowered from his window. If on hoisting them to his room he found the quantity correct, he again lowered the tin containing the penny guerdon, which the boys were in the habit of acknowledging by impolite allusions to the foreign origin of their customer, and to his peculiar taste in gastronomy. Such was juvenile depravity half a century or so ago, and it is very doubtful whether the Twentieth Century has seen much improvement in this respect. Baume went about clad in what were little better than rags filthy rags at that and generally his outward appearance was so miserable that charitable strangers who met or passed him in the street frequently attempted to bestow alms upon him. Invariably he courteously but firmly declined the proffered elaemosynary assistance, and ever was he careful to explain his refusal by assuring the astonished would-be givers that he was probably the richest man in the Isle of Man " If you do not believe me, sir (or madam), go thou to my lawyer, Mr. Sherwood. He has made my will, and he will tell you I ain worth two hundred thousand pounds." The old man exaggerated as to the extent, of his wealth, in generally a proneness to tell stories rather tall of order caused people honoured with his confidences to conclude that he was a native of Gascony. A man of liberal education and uncommon-culture, he could, when he so chose, converse freely and lucidly upon social, political, and scientific topics, and at times he would drop hints that he could, " an' he ,would," make revelations calculated to cause many folk in high places to squirm. Notwithstanding his miserly habits he acquired a library considerable in extent, mainly composed of books dealing with politics, sociology, science, and religion. So far as religion was concerned his literature was mainly antagonistic to orthodox forms of theology, for Baume made no secret that he was a convinced Freethinker. After his death, in 1875, a Douglas Nonconformist minister by some means became possessed of most of these anti-theological works and made a holocaust of them in his back garden. As for the other books similar of character, the trustees under Mr. Baume's will were about to hand them over to the same zealous defender of the faith, doubtless with a view to a similar fate being meted them, when a Douglas journalist made such effective protest that the volumes in question were eventually disposed of by public auction. Soon aftyer Baume's decease, a clergyman of the Established Church, stationed in Douglas, spoke at a meeting quasi-public of character, in denunciation of acceptance of charity bequeathed by " a dead atheist." This allusion occasioned quite a storm at the nmeeting and several prominent gentlemen present reproached the ecclesiastic narrowness of view. The late Mr. Robert S. Stephen, who subquently became a representative Douglas in the House of Keys, was especially strong in condemnation, perchance his righteous indignation caused him to rather overdo his panegyric of the testator. According to Mr Stephen, Baume's syrnpathy with the poor was so strong that during his life he denied himself in order that unfortunate people might benefit. This would have been very well but for the fact that the charity under discussion was altogether posthumous of character Mr Baume, so far as can be learned never parted with a farthing in alms during that portion of his lifetime which was passed in the Isleof Man. However, Mr. Stephen by his eloquence carried the meeting with him, and when he concluded by quoting from Coleridge's " Ancient Mariner "
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
the meeting (always excepting the bold and somewhat injudicious parson) made up its mind that Mr. Baume was rather of a religious turn of mind than otherwise. And there was no more talk about refusing the money' of the "dead atheist." When the eccentric Frenchman died it was found that he had left a will bequeathing the whole of his estate to certain Manx gentlemen in trust, to be used for charitable purposes in the Isle of Man. He indicated in the will that he especially desired the trustees to make provision for the education of poor children in the Isle of Man, but he was particular in directing that any such education should be strictly secular of character he had no use whatever for priests or parsons of any denomination. The bulk of his estate consisted of landed property in England, and as he foresaw that the Statute of Mortmain might so operate as to render nugatory his devise of English real estate for charitable purposes, he so provided in his will that in the event, of the trust bequest being nullified, the property should vest absolutely in the gentlemen nominated as trustees, as tenants in common, be disposed of as they thought. They thought fit to apply this quest to charitable purposes in the Isle of Man, and in due course the English property was sold and the proceeds went to swell the funds of Manx charities selected by the trustees. One of these charities, by the way, was King William's College, the Manx public school attended by boys for the most part English, Scottish, and Irish who almost variably have well-to-do parents. The College benefitted to the tune of three thousand pounds ! As the result of a little difference of opinion between the late Mr. Robert Corrin and the late Mr. John Joughin, two of the devisees, concerning the best method of applying a sum of three thousand pounds which the devisees decided should be appropriated for charitable purposes in Peel, it was eventually arranged that each of the two gentlemen named should be afforded the opportunity of nominating an object to which, if approved of by the other devisees then surviving, £1,500 might be devoted. Mr. Corrin exercised his nomination, and in due course £1,500 was handed over to the Clothworkers' School in Peel for purposes of higher education; but Mr. Joughin passed away without effectively indicating to the other then surviving devisees the late Mr. Samuel Harris and Mr. Dalrymple Maitland his intentions, with the result that the £1,500 still remains on deposit receipt in the Isle of Man Bank, and with the added accumulations of interest there is altogether a sum of about £2,000 available. As to this money the Attorney-General contends it was constituted a charitable fund, while Mr. W. M. Kerruish, who is the receiver of Mr. Joughin's insolvent estate, maintains that it forms part of the estate and should be distributed among Mr. Joughin's creditors. This is the issue which the Clerk of the Rolls was asked to decide in the Chancery Court on Wednesday week, and in due course he will adjudicate upon the point. His judgment will practically mean the completion of the administration of Mr. Baume's property, and then all that will be left to remind future generations of the old refugee consists in a tombstone standing in St. George's Churchyard, Douglas, somewhat fulsomely inscribed with an epitaph which time has already rendered well-nigh undecipherable.