William Kelly. 1776-1857


Born 1776 son of Matthias and Mary Kelly (nee Cannell), Mathias was a ship builder in Douglas who died 1784 (and was the first internment in the newly opened St George's yard). He was both a successful entrepeneur and political radical, he took over the Mills at what was soon to be called Union Mills in his late twenties. He is noticed in a court case of 1804 successfully reclaiming Mill Oats and the Lhergy, from Paul Stevenson whose family had been millers there for more than 150 years but who had sold out to William Kelly in 1804 for £500, Kelly gained possession in October 1805. The background to the case was that John Stevenson remarried in 1771 but under Manx law the Mill would go to his eldest son William, who had left the Island and lived in Dorset apparently having lost contact with his family until after his father's death in 1801. William's step-brother Paul was appointed to run the mill but on William's own death in 1804 his daughter Mary, then settled in England sold the Mill and lands to William Kelly.

William erected a woollen mill adjacent to the corn mill. Thomas Quayle notes in 1812 "About six years ago, machinery was erected for the spinning, dressing, and dyeing the native wool, and for its manufacture into cloth for home consumption. To the farmer this has been found highly beneficial, by creating a steady market for his wool; and the cloth of this fabric is of good quality". By 1807 William Kelly, of the Uinon Mills, was advertising for 20 experienced weavers and 6 young apprentices, the next year his produce began to receive favourable mention in the press - he was soon offering farmers the opportunity of having their own produce spun into cloth, 'a quantity as small as 10 llbs, will be accepted'. In 1810 he won a special cup for his manufacture of cloth.

Kelly wanted to improve the breed of sheep and soon afterwards began to import rams and ewes from Yorkshire - it may have been him that initiated the inquiry noted by Quayle: "In the year 1806, previous to the establishment of a manufacture of cloth from Manks wool for home consumption, enquiries were carefully made, from parish to parish, as to the number of sheep then actually kept".

During the Card Money era after the Napoleonic war he, along with many other merchants, issued tokens for 5/- etc however in 1817 started a sequence of events that caused his bankruptcy. It appears that in that year he agreed a barter system with Bishop Murray's proctor in which wool was exchanged for woven cloth. This arrangement continued for some years, in 1825 the Bishop tacitly acknowledged it by paying for delivered cloth as by oversight some wool had been sold rather than bartered. However in 1826 it appears the Bishop wanted cash but Kelly thinking the barter arrangement still stood did not pay - the Bishop sued for the £28 0s 2d and won his case in court but the presumably cash-strapped Kelly disputed the judgement and went for retrial by jury - he lost that case thus the coroner was called upon to offer the Union Mills for sale by auction in 1827. Meanwhile Kelly had been committed to Castle Rushen for debt but was discharged by 1828 - but 'not authorised to receive any monies due to him previous to his discharge'. He had taken advantage of the new law concerning bankrupts - however court cases went on for some years, one seeing him sued for a £30 promissory note by the Kirk Braddan Friendly Society as late as 1842.

He erected the Cholera memorial in St George's churchyard in memory of his brother Matthias who ran a soapery in Douglas. What today would be termed an industrial accident involving highly inflammable napha caught fire in 1843 - possibly this was used in the degreasing of the wool, the extracted lanonin might well have been sold to his brother.


Funeral Notice


On Saturday morning last, at his residence, Atholl Street, in this town, WILLIAM KELLY Esq., at the advanced age of 81 years. His health had been for some time declining, and during the last two or three years he had been comparatively speaking, confined to his house, especially in the winter months. In early life, Mr. Kelly became thoroughly impressed with the degraded condition of his country, politically, civilly, judicially and agriculturally; was fully satisfied that if this Island would rise, its inhabitants must help to improve themselves, their laws and institutions; must abolish self-election; irresponsibility and misrule in high places, hence he becomes the advocate of Reform in the fullest sense, of the word, and that, too, at a time when it was unpopular and ungraceful. He was the warm advocate for rural improvements and for the planting of all waste ground; and many spots may be seen at this day throughout the Island of which he was the ornamental designer. About the year 1810, 11 or 12, in company with the late Mr. Clucas of Ballaquinney in Marown, he visited England, for the purpose of making themselves acquainted with the best state of things in an agricultural and manufacturing sense; and taking with them their own horses, they made a three or four months' tour of the kingdom, visiting the principal towns as well as the metropolis and all the leading noblemen's seats and farms which lay along the various roads over which they travelled. On announcing their mission, they were received wherever they went with every mark of civility and kindness. Mr. Kelly was brought up in the manufacturing business and early in life established the Union Mills near this town where he carried on the woollen business in all its branches, in which he was warmly patronised and assisted by the elder Captain Harrison of Spring Valley; and though repeatedly, urged to accept a seat in our self elected house of irresponsibles, that was an HONOUR which he would not consent to accede to upon any terms, even though proffered by its then leading men as well as by the Dukes of Atholl and the then Governor Smelt.

In consequence of the adverse course of events which followed the passing of the Act 1813 or 14 abolishing the right of freedom from arrest of persons who took refuge in this Island - and which state of things continued up to the year 1830, to a greater or lesser degree, - Mr. Kelly failed in his business at the Union Mills and availed himself of the provisions of the act of Tynwald in such cases provided; after which he became the agent for several gentlemen in England, who about that time laid out large sums of money in the purchase of estates in this Island, many of which purchases are now realising from seven and a half to ten per cent on their original cost. He was married about the age of 60 to a widow lady named Gray who was about the same age, and who died some years ago, leaving him considerable property. About the year 1834 his only brother, Matthias Kelly, Esq., was suddenly seized with cholera and dying intestate, Mr. Kelly became entitled to his property consisting of the soapery premises in Hanover Street, in this town, and considerable personal estate.

As Mr. Kelly lived a Reformer, so he died a true believer in its principles; for only a fortnight to the day on which this notice is written, he said to the writer, "the cause you have espoused is right, and though imprisonment and bonds await you, it must, and ultimately will, trample over every opposition. Be of good cheer, brother, for a brighter and better day will dawn ere long, upon this plague smitten Isle".

Mr. Kelly's remains will leave No. 23, Atholl Street at ten o'clock on Friday morning for interment at St. George's.

Mona's Herald 22 April 1857



P. M. Lewthwaite Flail and Fleece United The History of Union Mills Privately Published 1986

Memorial Notice (of Nephew Dalrymple Maitland) Manx Quarterly #21 pp53/61 1919



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