[From The Manxman, #4 1911]
By the Same O.M.P.
" I should be glad to know if any tradition of the event still lingers among the good fisher or other folk of Peel.'
Mr. John Hutchinson.
I do not know, Mr. Editor, whether you or your readers care for any more of my reminiscences, or whether both you and they have had enough of them, but just on the chance that another batch may not be unacceptable, added to a desire on my part, now that I have begun the task of collecting them, to dispose of them safely by committing them all. for the advantage of posterity, to the immortal pages of " The Manxman." I herewith enclose what I believe will prove the "last lot " for this season at least.
But before you proceed to send on this fresh instalment to the printers (if so be you do), I should like to set myself right with you and your readers in respect of one matter which has been somewhat troubling me, and perhaps them, since I entered upon the task of recording these Recollections, and that is the matter of dates. In my first communication to you in response to your inquiry as to O.M.P.'s, I put down the date of my O.M.P.-ship as 1839. I now find, upon further reflection, and after certain aids to memory which have come in my way, that that was an error, and that it arose in this way. I had always been told, as, indeed, I knew only too well from experience, that I had crossed over from the Isle of Man in " the great storm," and that was the only fact I had at the time of writing, to guide me. Now, looking up the date of " the great storm" in Haydn's famous Dictionary and other reliable books of reference, I found that it occurred in 1839, and, as I could not imagine there could be any greater storm than the one I crossed over in, and having, moreover, Captain Gill's own testimony to the fact that "it (mine) was the worst storm he had ever been out in," I came naturally (but wrongly, as it turns out) to the conclusion that my storm (as I may so term it) was " the great storm of 1839."
But, as I say, I now find that I was wrong, and that, as a matter of fact (which I wish now and for ever to place upon record in the immortal pages of " The Manxman," in correction of all other statements, which might obtain mischievous currency, to the perplexity of future historians) the actual date of my adventurous crossing to the Isle of Man, and of my first setting foot upon its shores (also of my entrance at " Imeson's," from which such momentous consequences were to result) was not 1839, but early in the month of January of the next year -1840. Also, I have now discovered for a certainty that my return journey in which the terrible storm occurred was in the same month of the following year, 1841, so that all the momentous events which I have recorded in my " Memories of Mona " up to date (including, of course, the greatest of all-my memorable combat with the " greatest of Manxman ") and those which remain to be recorded, took place within the limited space of one year-the year 1840-surely henceforth to be regarded as the annus mirabilisimus in the history of the Island. Only think of it, and what I have in the way of events compressed into it' Why, the Siege of Troy alone, in the hands of Homer, with not half the recollections of mine, extended over ten!!
But to proceed now to my new recollections... The last of my last batch, the reader may remember, related to " marbles," and some further remarks on that important subject may, therefore, form a not inappropriate prelude to the opening of my new lot. For one of the facts first impressed on me shortly after my arrival in the Isle of Man was the aptitude-the, almost uncanny aptitude-of its youth for and their skill in the science and practice of that noble game. Pondering on the fact, as I have frequently since done, I think I may attribute this excellence to the transcendent facilities for the practice of the game afforded by the long, broad and resplendent stretch of sand round Douglas Bay and its marvellous smoothness and solidity at low tide, though something nrav, perhaps, be allowed for racial and hereditary endowments. " Marbling," as a science passed from sire to son from the earliest ages to the present, must have had its effect in making its practice almost an instinct in a people, who, as I have said, seemed to possess no other game, except, perhaps " camog." But, whatever the cause, so it was-in marble playing I found the Manx boys pre-eminent. I myself knew something of the game and had practised it in a sort of bungling way amongst my juvenile companions in Herefordshire and elsewhere, but till my arrival on Mona's shore I knew nothing of the game as a science, and as I found my companions played it. Gradually, however, I learnt it by studying their methods, which, as far as I can remember them now at least were these. Down on those shining sands where the marbles rolled as smoothly as the ivory balls. on a billiard table, the players made a circle-an exact circle, using a peg or stick stuck rip as its centre and a piece of string of a certain length as its radius. A deft revolution of this string, with a finger projecting into tho sand, through a loop, soon marked the circle in the sand. With the mathematical precision of a figure in " Euclid " this circle was bisected twice, forming it into four equal parts or segments. Along the circumference of the circle so formed and also along the lines intersecting it, were placed, in ordered distance, the marbles forming the stake; (so to speak) of the players. What in cricket would be called tile choice of innings, but in this case was the choice of any player to begin-a very important point-was determined by the shooting of a marble by each contestant from a point outside the circumference Of the circle in the direction of it, the marble coming closest to the ring without actually entering it, or becoming canes-clic as mathematicians would call it, entitling the owner to the first shot. This determined, the lucky beginner entered upon his '; innings,- his object being to " clear the ring " (as the term was) of as many marbles as possible without leaving his own marble (his taw, as it was called) inside. Thi; was not so cast' a matter as it looked, especially witlr an ordinary heavy marble as taw (such as I, and, I suppose, other English boys were accustomed to use), but the Manx boy, I found, knew a trick worth two of that. As a " taw " he used a light marble made of clay, and generally, I believe, manufactured by himself. This contrivance, being light and elastic, after hitting its mark sufficiently hard to expel it from the circle, hardly ever failed to rebound outside the ring, where it was still " in play," and in this manner I have known a skilful player " clear the ring " absolutely at due innings, so to speak. One such player, I remember, existed at " Imeson's," and well do I remember also how I at the same time both admired and hated him-yes, Christian reader, hated him, for he carried bags of beautiful marbles about with him-marbles of all colours and materials, from the purest " stone ally " to the commonest clay, and a large number of them were, or had been, mine, mine-bought with my own pocket money, and I heard that he sold them and thus profited, and, moreover, feasted, at my expense ! I cannot remember his name, but I do his appearance. Iïe was a lean lanky fellow, a bit older than me, and longer in the reach, but, in spite of that, when the spirit of-well, " Tom Spring "-came upon me, I felt as though I should like to tackle him as I did the " greatest Manxman that ever lived." But I really had no excuse. True, he won my marbles, but I could not say he won them unfairly. So there was no casus belli in that.
Glen Wyllin, Michael, near Peel.
The ancient Castle at Peel, which was visited by the late King Edward VII.
But enough of marbles you will say (though I hope my description of them as once played in the Island, though long, is riot out of place). Let its turn to something else. The difficulty, however, is what to cimose. But as I am on the subject of my impression_, of the Island and its inhabitants, let me say that, looking at it from a schoolboy's point of view, what I considered most remarkable, after the skill of my playmates in the game of marbles, was their want of appreciation of other sports or pastimes, which I almost considered as necessaries of existence, and of these I may mention two in particular, without which I thought life not worth living to a boy of any spirit, and these were (strange as it may seem in these degenerate days) snow-balling and orchard raiding. They may have arisen (and doubtless did arise in the case of my Manx compeers) from the lack of Opportunities for these delight;, for, during my time, I saw no snow fall in the Island (though I was told there wassome to be seen on the top of Snae Fell), and as far as my experience went there was not an orchard within its bounds.
Pointing this out, however, one day to another boy, who was. I believe, a native, he assured me that I was mistaken-that he knew of an orchard. and that, too, not a long way off-that is, just out of Douglas, where he had seen apples-yes, real red-checked apples growing from the trees, and that, moreover, if I liked, he would undertake to show it me. This, I need not say, was glorious news, and with it, the spirit of adventure stirred strong in me and I longed for the possession of those apples or some of them, with the longing of the bold Buccaneers for the spoils of the Spanish galleon-. This desire I confessed to my Manx informant, and another, a smaller boy, who, I believe, was his brother, and after drawing tip a plan of campaign, we three-young rascals call us if you will--proceeded to the spot where the orchard was said to be situate, and there truly, I saw, not indeed what I should call an " orchard,' but a few fruit trees growing in a field adjoining what appeared to be a small farm-house, surrounded with outhouses and other buildings. For a moment I was disappointed, but there were the trees, and there were apples hanging from cite of them sufficiently red to be, like that of Mother Eve's, tempting to the sight. So we determined to make a rush for their posession. Leading the way, the two others followed me, and arriving at the site of the apple tree, we, the two bigger of us, hoisted number three-the least and lightest of usinto its branches. with instructions to shake the most promising bough. This was done, but, no sooner was our young accomplice mounted into the fork of the tree, than we heard a noise, and, turning round, we saw to our horror what we thought was a bull, but which I believe at this distant date was no more than a rather big calf-issuing from what was evidently the fold of the farm. Onwards he came, curious no doubt to see who and what were the trespassers on his domain, and lowing, no doubt, by way of salutation or of call to his companions, but with no intent to do us bodily injury. But " conscience loth make cowards of us all," and " the thief " (though we never dreamed of applying such a term to ourselves, and would have resented the appellation) " doth fear each bush an officer," and so our imagination metamorphosed the harmless calf into a wild and raging bull, and fear overcoming us, we made for the nearest fence, forgetful of the perils of Dur companion " up the tree." But we had not ;one far, when a new source of alarm confronted us, in the form of a man, who, no doubt, was the farmer, the owner of the apples, and who, in my present opinion, had been calmly watching our proceedings for some time from the shelter of his barn. His presence, however, freed us from our fears of the bull, and brought us to a sense of our duty to our little comrade, whom we had shamefully deserted. Plucking up courage, therefore, we approached the farmer, begged mercy for our young accomplice on the ground that we were the real transgressors, and were prepared to make any reparation for the mischief we had done or take any punishment he cared to inflict. This last was by no means a safe offer, for the farmer was a lusty man and was armed with a formidable stick, but our candid confession and open appeal had its effect. Gradually the stern look faded from the good man's face and a sort of grim but amused smile took its place, and so, threatening what he would do for us if ever we came on such an errand again, he let us off with that caution. And we went-downcast and much ashamed of ourselves, though I thought at the time, and fully believe it now, that I caught sounds of smothered laughter from the other side of the fence as we slunk away discomfited. I do not know whether that farm with its fruit trees is in existence now. Perhaps some of your readers can tell. It was some mile or two out of Douglas, along the road leading back from Stanley Terrace. The farmer is doubtless gone, but I hope to meet him some day in the garden of the Hesperides.
But now for a different sort of recollection, In my day there were schools not only for boys in Douglas, but also for girls or " young ladies," as they were always called on the prospectuses of the several establishments, and amongst these, the most famous and certainly the most select, was one situated near, or (as it appeared to me) in the Castle Mona Grounds, not very far from Stanley Terrace. This school was kept by two ladies-sisters, I believe-of the name of George, and at it two of my sisters went to school. Both, alas, are dead, and one of them (Joanna) is buried in Kirk Braddan Churchyard. But it is of the other, whose name was Mary, I wish to speak, for she was the heroine of, or rather in, an incident, which might form the subject of a romance for novelist or poet, though, perhaps, it is now quite forgotten. For, staying as a visitor during a holiday, in the house of Mr. Henry Hutchinson, of Peel (referred to in my last paper), with another young lady, a distant relative and fellow pupil (I believe) at the Misses Georges, also called Mary, though I do not feel justified in giving her other name-these two young ladies-these two " Maries "-set off one fine day, as young ladies, whether named Mary or not, will, for a jaunt round the coast, regardless of the ebb and flow of the tides and of the danger of being shut off by the latter on their perilous way, which was, I believe, in the direction of Orry's Head.
I cannot now recall the particulars of their adventures as they were subsequently related to me, but it will, I think, be sufficient if I say here that, being expected home for dinner or some other meal, they did not return-that hours passed in anxious expectation, during which the report, of course, got about that two young ladies staying with Mr. H. were lost, or in extreme danger of being lost, somewhere along the coast. This arousing the sympathy of the brave fishermen of Peel, caused them to organiee a search on their own account which resulted, after many anxious hours, in one of the boatcrews coming upon the two ladies perched on a rock, one of them in a state of utter collapse, with the other (my sister) on the point of reaching that state of exhaustion from holding her up. Both were happily rescued, and I am informed that the place of their rescue was for some time known amongst the fisher folk as the " Maries Rock." Whether that be so or no, I am not in a position positively to say, but I should be glad to know if any tradition of the event still lingers amongst the good fisher or other folk of Peel. Both " Maries," I may say, are now gone to their rest, but one of them, whose other name I do not feel justified in mentioning, lived to an honoured old age as the wife of a clergyman well known and honoured in the county from which I write.
One more " recollection " and I think I have done, for the rest (for there are still some) you would probably not think worth recording. This is connected with the kind but somewhat eccentric " Mr. Henry " of whom I have spoken in connection with gooseberry feasts, &c. One day-it must have been a day in spring, when there was water in the small rivers-lie took me a-fishing, and we followed the course of a stream somewhere to the north of Douglas till we found ourselves near its source and in a very wild district. Standing to survey, he pointed out to me what he said was the summit of Snaefell. Suddenly, as we were gazing, far up in the blue above us, we saw two birds sailing slowly to some unknown destination. They were large birds-larger than any I had ever seen and more stately in their flying, and, on my saying so, y my kind companion said they were EAGLEs, and on their way to Snaefell. Was he right? Were there any eagles in the Island at that date, and are there any at the present day
To this, and any other appeals for information I may have made in the course of this and former communications, I should be glad to have a response from any correspondent of " The Manxman." Meanwhile I wish your readers and yourself, Mr. Editor, good bye and good luck till next season, when, if alive, you may perhaps hear from me again.