Sir Wadsworth Busk, 1730-1811

Sir Wadsworth BuskBorn 3 January 1730 in Leeds, son of a naturalized woolen merchant from Gothenburg in Sweden. Mother's family had long history of association with Yorkshire dissent, Wadsworth Busk himself attended Dr. Doddridge's Midland Academy, Northampton and at one time contemplated entering the ministry.

Entered Middle Temple June 1744 but only called to English Bar in February 1755. Married Alice Parish, daughter and heiress of a West India merchant, in Walthamstow in January 1756 - they were to have 5 sons before her untimely death in 1776, due to a fall from her carriage ascending Richmond Hill (buried Kirk Onchan - the Memorial Inscription recorded by Feltham has since disappeared). Practiced in Northern Circuit as advocate until appointed Manx Attorney General in 1774 on death of Charles Searle. It would appear that financial pressures induced him to accept the post - he writes in march 1775 "..tho' fortune has banished, tho' she has imprisoned me too - she has not yet made it my duty to surrender all the comforts of life ... and who can say that the ease and independence which she has denied me, in the place where I most wished her shall not be found in the path that she herself has led to"

Dolley is of opinion that it was his friendship with Alexander Wedderburn (English Solicitor and later Attorney General 1771-1780 and later Lord Chancellor) that was influential in his appointment to the politically sensitive post on the Island some 9 years after Revestment. Busk would have played a leading part in the 1777 legislation that, in Dolley's words, 'essentially emancipated the Manx people from their feudal past'. With most legal business occurring in Douglas but with the seat of Government in Castletown, Busk had settled on rented property at Newtown, Santon - now the site of Mount Murray Hotel and at one time the seat of Richard McGwire, Dublin Alderman strongly associated with the running trade.

The post-Revestment constitution arranged for three Westminster appointees (Governor, Receiver-General and Attorney-General ) to outnumber two essentially native Manx appointees of Clerk of the Rolls and Deemster. Knighted, along with George Moore, in 1781 Busk and Moore had joined to oppose an attempt by 4th Duke of Atholl to have some of his ducal rights, lost on Revestment, restored.

Dolley quotes from an unpublished letter of Robert Heywood (in Atholl papers) of 1782 that describes Busk as 'he drinks so hard by himself & is so nervous and peevish with it when Sober that he is much disliked'. However much of Dolley's paper is given over to showing how the very able Busk managed to always serve the English interest but at the same time 'bringing into government an authentic if still elitist Manx voice'.

He produced two masterly essays, in the forms of letters, to the 1792 commission, the first of 13th October deals with the Manx Constitution, a later one with the Manx Legal process which include some of his own, fairly forthright personal opinions.

His health was not good and Busk went into 'retirement' at Newtown - as reported by David Roberston; he left the Island shortly after the appointment of 4th Duke of Atholl as Governor - an appointee he could not have been happy with. He retired to Beaconsfield where his health appeared to improve and for nearly a decade played a leading part in the running of Middle Temple before spending his last 8 years in near total seclusion at Dacre Lodge, East Barnet.

Death of Mrs Busk

Previously unpublished letters in the possession of the family give a full account of the accident. On Saturday 8th June 1776 Wadsworth and Alice Busk set out to visit Newtown which they had intended to move into from their cramped lodging at Snugborough on the following Tuesday. They were delayed in setting off as Wadsworth Busk had mislaid some bank notes and as they were leaving their landlady gave them two chickens which were given to the boy who was to accompany them. As Richmond Hill is very steep Mr Busk as usual, got out of the chaise and walked up the hill to save the horse - one of the chickens escaped, the boy alighted to capture it, and, possibly due to the noise of the chicken, the chaise horse bolted, Mrs Busk was thrown out and one of the wheels of the chaise went over her back, presumably breaking it as she lost the use of her legs. She was taken back to Douglas and died on Tuesday 11th June having been in great pain.

Wadsworth Busk was greatly affected by his loss - on August 4th he wrote to his brother in law Rev E Radcliffe (who also appeared to act as his personal agent in London) saying "so far I have not been able to write to any of them [his friends], nor can I foresee when I shall. My nerves are in so shattered a state that I can hardly hold my pen, and my Rheumatism is so bad that it is not now without difficulty that I walk across the room" - however he went on to ask Radcliffe to find him a tutor for his boys (£50 a year plus board) and concludes with some business matters. In a subsequent letter he writes "never did I know the true value of the treasure that is gone till I lost it". In a letter of the 17th Dec he asks Radcliffe's opinion on two possible wordings for the his wife's memorial (in Onchan churchyard) - however as both of them are considerably shorter and much simpler than that reported by Feltham it appears that he must have considerably altered his first thoughts.


Letter W Busk to unknown addressee Castletown,4 March 1775
Letter Senhouse Wilson to Rev Mr E Radcliffe dated Douglas 12 June 1776
Letter Senhouse Wilson to Rev Radcliffe dated 28 June 1776
Letter W Busk to Rev Radcliffe, Newtown. 4th August 1776
Letter W Busk to Rev Radcliffe, Newtown 29 August 1776


M. Dolley Procurator Extraordinary - Sir Wadsworth Busk (1730-1811) Proc IoMNH&ASoc VIII #3 pp207/245 1980



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 1999