[From The Manxman, #6 1912]
What was Douglas like-the Douglas we all now know so well-say about the time that Queen Victoria came to the throne. It would be idle of me to ask what Blackpool was like (or such places), for they sprang from nothing, have become great only as haunts of visitors, but leave no history behind them, and retain not one quaint and curious memory of the past. The Isle of Man is wholly different, and was then, even much more than now, a little selfcontained world of its own.
Ah ! my friend, I hear you remark that it couldn't have been other than a mere handful of fishermen till you made it important by your presence as a tripper! "The dead forget-for they must do," says the philosopher; "while the living forget-as soon as they are able!" The Manx population, at the 1831 census, numbered 40,985, to-day, roughly speaking, it is but 55,000. A paltry 14,000 increase in about 80 years! "But they couldn't have been lodging-house keepers? " say you. No more than they are to-day, I reply. They had shipbuilding, manufactures, farming, fishing, mining, and particularly, had dwelling among them a class now totally extinct, viz.: retired half-pay naval and military officers, drawn thither by the cheapness of living, and the absence of Customs' dues.
For the most part, they were poor, but well-bred and well-spoken, pleasant and cheerful companions, and a softening influence on those around. I believe there was a sort of freemasonry amongst them; they were a separate community, and dwelt pretty well together. It depended, of course, on the particular branch of service for the payment of the pensions. Thus some would be due on one date, some on another, and the incident was often afforded of, say, Mrs. Major O'Grady loudly hammering at the wall, and bawling through it, to demand attention from Mrs. Captain McClusky next door. Something like this would ensue: Mrs. O'G.: " I know you drew your money yesterday, dear. Can you lend me 9/4 for the grocer? " (Putting her ear to the wall). " We get paid next Thursday, you know. Yes, quite certain. All right. I promise. Thank you, dear."
Then Georgie, having been hastily despatched by the back, Mrs. O'Grady would receive the grocer at the front door. A good many of these impoverished gentle-people lived in the two terraces on the front, north of Broadway.
But these interesting half-pay folk were not always so fortunate. As witness : 24th Feb., 1834. Lieut. Charlton petitions the Tynwald Court. Declares that he was formerly in the Hon. East India Conpany's Service; was the son of a major and a magistrate; had been highly educated, and was a graduate of Oxford University. Had resided in the island for the space of eight years, living out of a pension of £50 per annum. He had been committed to prison at Castle Ruchen, for non-payment of £39; had been there over three months. He prayed to be released.
Order of Tynwald Court: That he be discharged. Must pay £10 per annum, and not to leave the island till the whole was liquidated.
Far funnier was the case (much the same date) of a half-pay R.N. officer residing at Jurby, some twelve or more miles from Douglas. Calling at the Customs Office in the latter place on the due date of his half-yearly pension, he was informed that they had "no money just then"; a similar answer being forthcoming the following day-whereupon he summed up affairs as follows: "Sir, I am an ex-officer to the so-and-so service. By dint of economy and self-denial, I pay my just debts and maintain myself as a gentleman, at Jurby. Twice each year I am compelled to hire a horse to ride over for my pension. On presenting myself yesterday, I was informed that you had no money, thus causing me the further expense of putting up at an inn for the night-which I can ill afford. On calling this day, the same answer is given, and, pressing for a sounder reason, I am told that I must wait till a cargo of gin arrives." Hard lines! Mr. Officer, to catch King William's treasury so low. It took a. week for the "cargo of gin " to arrive!
It is evident these rather impecunious officers were the life and soul of affairs; they paraded the shore, smoking and chatting, and, of course, meeting the steamer was a gospel with them. Not many years before they had had " Boney " to discuss 'and even now they never knew what little game France would be up to next. English politics commanded their close attention, and such scraps of information as reached them were very eagerly devoured. Naturally, they could not afford to buy the dear English papers, but the " Manx Sun "-first called the "Rising Sun "-had been established, I think in 1821, by Captain Colquitt, R.N., to "defend the island against the agression of the late Duke of Athol." A few years later it fell into the hands of Mr. Quiggin, the printer, and was then, as always, a well got-up and interesting journal. Small space was devoted to Manx affairs, but for the rest excerpts and opinions from all the leading English journals were skilfully extracted and summarised. Thus the officers kept pace with the doings of the mainland.
Perhaps Manx journalism should here have its paragraph. The " Manx Advertiser " was dying out, and its foreman, on August 3rd, 1833. announced the " Mona's Herald," chiefly, I believe, for the purpose of attacking the self-elected House of Keys. The "Sun," of course, was then old and important, and made haste to ignore the newcomer. A few years before, both "Sun" and "Advertiser" had been taunted with the paucity of their insular news, when it was stated that " both together only sold 400 copies per week, and that the revenue from advertisements was but £7 per week, and, therefore, it was impossible to employ reporters." I only state this to pave the way towards a mention of the prodigious windfall which, on October 1st, 1834, befell the Manx journals. The Duke of Athol had sold such rights as he possessed to the English Government. The island still retained its special freedom from Customs' duties, but the Government, foolishly, granted it postal facilities "the same as Great Britain." Thus as a sop to the embittered English newspaper proprietor, whose stamp duty on each copy had been increased, the Government decided to send newspapers through the post free of charge Therefore, Manx papers, paying no stamp duty per copy (being under Manx laws), still went free through the post-under English laws. The " Mona's Herald " called itself ,I believe, the leading advertising medium for Great Britain, Ireland, and the Channel Islands, or something to that effect. The position was strikingly advantageous. It cost, say 6d. to buy the "Times" "Morning Advertiser," "Manchester Guardian," or any of the leading papers. The Manx journals skimmed the cream of the lot, and sent the result free of postage to any person in England! Here, therefore, is an interesting point entirely without parallel.
Now and then some "meddling"-as the papers called him-member of the English Government, would rise in his place and propose that Manx Customs Duties should become the same as English. Then would the island be all commotion, ' and big petitions got up. One of these, in the summer of 1836, stated that "by reason of the lowness of taxes many retired officers and others live here, and that all these would go to some foreign land where living is cheap, and the island become a mere forsaken speck in the Empire." Generally the matter ended by the defeat of the Government on some other question, only to be revived some future time. The fate Earl of Harrowby was much disliked in this respect, and even Lord Palmerston was viewed with a singular mistrust. Some years ago the writer asked Mr. Gladstone (who had been a young man in the Commons at the time), what the feeling was in the House on these Manxaffairs. I publish herewith the postcard he sent me in reply.
With rum at 4/2 per gallon, retail, and wine 1/- per bottle, it can easily be seen that the small pay officers dreaded the raising of the Customs dues. As was usual with the Manx a song was sung about this, as 'about other matters. The opening was typical of the officer in England, -so
Taxation high; provision dear,
With friends but few; cash rather slack
My drooping spirits naught to cheer
Not e'en a tiff of cogniac !
He, therefore, resolves to quit these ills, and flee to the island, thus
Resolv'd these various ills to fly,
On England's shore I turn my back,
In favour'd Mona to enjoy
My ease-and tiff of cogniac
He duly arrives, and sings
As in Calypso's Magic Isle,
Again upon the ocean track
So here all nature seems to smile;
Illumin'd by thee, brave cogniac
But then comes the awful proposal to raise the insular duties, so he cries:
The demon reaches Mona's strand,
Taxation and her train, slack -
Around she weaves her ebon wand.
Where now? My tiff of cogniac?
Small as the duties were, the officials were derided and bothered by all and sundry as much as possible, and, in 1833, "Mr. R. McGuffog, Comptroller of the Customs, Douglas, obtained £200 from Mr. Kelly, soapboiler, Hanover Street, Douglas, for libel contained in a petition to Sir Robert Peel, stating that Mr. McGuffog had sworn falsely that there was a duty levied on kelp imported into Douglas." The said petition, by the Way,. also "humbly submitted" that " Mr.." Cornelius Smelt.,-Lieutenant-Governor, both Deemsters, the Attorney-General, and "Mr" Caley, gaoler of Castle Rushen, should, in a body be dismissed." Something like a petition, this! But history does not state what Sir Robt. Peel thought about it!
Such, therefore, was one side of the life which the visitor encountered on reaching Douglas. And how did he reach it? In the, "twenties" by the smacks-sturdy craft, short, but broad of beam, and rich in mainsail. They faced almost any weather; carried goods, and were, at the time, quite regarded as finality in the matter of speedy transport. One of the chief of these smacks was the "Duchess," her career being both historic 'and honourable, while, besides, she had for commander the famous Wm. Gill, once a Ramsey ship carpenter, but afterwards the most notable of the many good sailors who "trafficked" in those parts; he was, later, master of the flying schooner, "Douglas," and (as we all know), the very first man to sail the original Manx steamer, "Mona's Isle."
Thus our forefathers in the "twenties" went over in these boats. There were several "lines," the chief being "Holmes' Pacquets." " Drinkwater's Pacquets," and the " King's Pacquet Post." Both Holmes and Drinkwater were Liverpool people, the former also bankers in Douglas, doing dealing and trading besides, and being interested in the curing of herrings and the like. These ships could make the run in from 12 hours upwards, but days would be consumed at times. In a picture published in the July " Manxman " of last year, the "Duchess" is shown alongside the old red pier, land here a distinctive point is made, as to that pier come steamers this very day! viz., that portion which moor opposite the Steam Packet Offices. This pier and the Fort Anne jetty marked the whole of the protection-nothing else between Douglas Head and Onchan, then. At low water small boats took passengers off, and many a trifle of amateur smuggling was contrived thereby. All passengers were liable to a search, and now and then some more flagrant offender would even see the inside of Castle Rushen. Ladies put up gin and brandy in their " bustles," while men grew robust on an armour of cheap tobacco. All this, in spite of a striking official liberality-a whole bottle of spirits being allowed for consumption on the voyage. Governor Ready, who succeeded Colonel Smelt, earned some favour by " obtaining an extra 2,000 gallons of brandy for the island in 1835." He was a rather practical man, and generally remarked by the brevity of his speeches. Here is the first one verbatim: "I feel particularly flattered by the address you have presented to me, and shall have much pleasure in meeting your views to the utmost of my powers." A gem of brevity, truly!
Thus the visitor found a Douglas with narrow, crooked streets, lit by oil lamps, or not lit by anything, as the case might be. Yet gas was somewhat early introduced, the Steam Packet Company being remarkable for " having erected a splendid gas lamp on the Quay-but they don't light, it on dark nights! " For all this, Douglas was,the resort of the better class, who came over to 'stay, to take part in the balls and social gatherings, the regattas, the horse races on the sands, and many old-time forms of entertainment, now, alas ! no more. Of course, when "opposition" boats ran, and the fares were 1/and 2/6, things were different. In August, 1836, the Monarch, not being ready, was supplanted by a chartered opposition vessel, the Clyde; it was then said, with great astonishment, " that 1,000 persons, were landed in one day, and that the Mona's Isle has brought 2,000 during the week." Still this was far from agreeable to the general populace, who complained of "the numerous paupers and Piedmontese who now infest the island, brought over by the low fares." Paupers and Piedmontese ! is really very good! But even visitors "only able to spend £1 per head" were regarded as not worth having.
Old Douglas: Crooked Lanes
The coaching trade was, I believe, flourishing in those times, whilst bathing, sailing, and fishing, were greatly indulged in. There were also' performances at the old theatre, about which curious controversies d would, at times, arise-a resident once pointing out that " it has rained on each of the last five nights when there was, a play on, which I consider, is `the direct Hand of God, who does not approve of theatres!"
In spite of this incident. of the " Dark Ages," there were even then certain features of enlightenment which we are almost wont to regard as the product of our own time. For instance, take this, from a Manx " Agony Column- of the period:" Ellen is earnestly requested to sit under the third window from the balcony, at the concert, on Tuesday. There needs no further explanation.-J.P."
I wonder if " Ellen " and " J.P.- have descendants, on the Island to-day.
Cricket was played in Douglas even in 1832, in the September of which year there was organised a supper to a departing member. A report says " Many fine songs were sung in a style which nothing but such an evening could', have called forth," ' a phrase which would be very, applicable to suppers in these days; Regarding cricket, this is," what they then thought of it: "I am not aware of anything better adapted to add to the respectability and consequence of the island than the formation of a cricket club, the game being so highly esteemed and universally approved." Alas! Cricket badly languishes in Douglas to-day ! Man$meR don't play it themselves, and are said to think that no one else should. Douglas provides splendidly for its visitors in every possible way, but for their cricket,- of which they cannot realise its potency. I ask them to note what sixteen out of every twenty buy the early papers for-to read about the cricket matches! When will they remove this reproach? Why not throw in a perfect cricket ground whether the Manx play the game or not? I have too much faith in the Manx people to believe that it is because no dividend is attached to the process, or that they would " form a company to play the accordion on the steamers if there was 10 per cent. in it." No, No! There is ample wealth in Douglas. Let them set about it.
Is there another small island in the whole world so full as this one of quaint curiosities: Here is an instance:-The "Critical Review" for 1799 says: "In one of the registers of Woodford, in Essex, is an account of all the collections for charitable purposes, commencing in the year 1643. Amongst them is this very singular item. The town of Douglas, in the Isle of Man, burnt by Turkish Pirates, 1644, collected £1 7s. 6d. I may be pardoned wondering what Turkish pirates wanted at Douglas.
At odd times people would complain about the policing and watching at Douglas. The matter was a private affair, as witness:--A meeting of the subscribers for the Douglas police was held to-day." I am afraid we could not get up much of a private subscription for police in 1912.
But all this is merely that forgetfulness I mentioned in the opening. We forget. To-day we traverse Athol Street to the station; note its advocates' offices, its shops, its minor lodging-houses, and its seedy elements. How would the following read to-day? "January 12th, 1835, at his residence in Athol Street, the lady of George Wm. Dumbell, Esq., of the Manx Bar, of a son." We can no more credit the Athol Street of the past than we can the island of the past. Yet the island was the seat of great summer enjoyment. I have spoken of the " smacks," and, as mentioned above, given a picture of one. Would the tourist of to-day patronize them? No! at the most we might offer a shilling an hour for a little cod fishing in the bay. And yet they carried Earls of Derby! but did not have Marconi " wireless " !
Poster at time of "Opposition"
The first steamer was a boat only 108 feet long and of 90 horse power, yet worshipped as a modern wonder, and as the ending of all sea troubles which had previously beset the traveller! Who did not sing the praises of the Mona's Isle, and of Gill, the great commander? just as to-day, who does not revere the stately concern which so admirably carries out the business she began? I am well aware that the touring history of the Isle of Man is but the history of the Steam Packet Co.-but that is another story, about which I am for the moment not concerned.
Douglas Promenade as it appeared in days long past
[Harris Prom + the Colonel's Road - probably dating from early 1880's or a little earlier - the wall is that of the Villa Marina]
All I know is that even then Douglas was, as it still is, the most attractive of all our summer resorts. Naturally, there has since been lost to it much of its older side, but still a good deal remains, and there now can be seen, wedged in at the back of the Market and the Quay, residences which were once the homes of titled aristocracy, leading men, and the brains of law and commerce. They can still be pointed out; still be seen. Douglas then began at Broadway, and the big houses north of it were once the homes of the half-pay officers already named. Between Broadway and the Quay-now a stately promenade-was then a mass of quaintness and domestic romance, of fishermen's cottages, and the homes of the lowly. The waves played on the rubble of the shore, and were just as clear and just as good as those which now spend their force on the modern concrete.
Castle Mona Hotel originally [c.1896]
I want the poor old past, or the good old past (as you prefer) to have its rightful place, and when-perhaps lolling on the seats of the ornate Douglas of to-day-you read this, give a thought to the times when your forefathers also came thither, as anxious as you to breathe the ozone and the buoyancy of the Manx air. That you have the Ben-my-Chree with her 400 feet length, and her 14,000 horse-power, to travel in is your advantage, I well know, but I am not certain that your enjoyment (save on the voyage) is any greater than when your predecessors changed their good English shilling for fourteen Manx penny tokens, instead of twelve. Fourteen? Ah! my friend, this was the era of plenty,, and whether the coin had the "three legs" on the face of it or the "sans changer" of the Derby Family, along with their "eagle and child," it was good enough. Coins? There is material alone in this copper business for. a whole article. Copper was not a standard, but a token- It often ran short. The Derby Family sent £1,000 worth over now and then, pro hano publico; but the coins were too lame and were re-exported-at a profit! The lordly motto of "sans changer" was humorously translated "without change-none -to be had," and so on. When our good Queen began to reign, violent efforts were made to have a shilling of but 12 pence. This led to the Copper Riots.
But who can really fathom the doings of those days? Who properly imagine the trip on the stage coach before reaching the boat? N5'hst a dream it all must be to the favoured and pampered traveller of the present, who is waited upon and tended hand and foot.