Tourism - Historical Introduction

On its being the continual resort of strangers depends, and I think may safely depend, the increasing prosperity of this country.

George Woods 1811

Native greeting to Vistor:
"Hullo ! I heard you were coming over. When are you going back ?"

Manx Merry Myths [1875] J.Brown & Son Douglas

Following the 1765 Act of Revestment and the effective cessation of the 'running trade', a , or possibly 'the' , major source of earnings for the Island suddenly ceased. By the 1790's a new source of revenue had started - the Island was seen as a cheaper place to live for half-pay officers but also thanks to the 1737 act re debtors, a safe haven against off-Island creditors. By the 1810's the Island had gained a poor reputation as a haunt of debtors that was only remedied by the 1814 Act that removed any future impunity. This apparently caused some distress, especially in Douglas as many long term residents left.

The Duke of Atholl saw the Summer Visitor as a replacement, for which purpose he had built Strathallan Crescent at the North end of Douglas Bay for letting during the summer season.

However it was the introduction of steam ships between Liverpool and Douglas that provided a reliable and efficient mechanism to move visitors. The following graph shows passenger arrivals from 1830.

 passenger numbers 1830-1920Passenger Arrivals 1830-1920

Note the figures pre 1884 are derived from A.W.Moore who presumably (though he gives no source) estimated them from figures supplied via IoMSPCo; post 1884 official numbers were collected as a 1d tax was payable on each arrival. The peak in Jubilee year 1887 was caused by fare-cutting competition between steam packet companies. The 1913 peak of 663,000 was not equalled again, though1948 came close, but after that year tourist numbers declined steadily. In 1888 some 95% of these arrivals were through Douglas, Ramsey being a very poor second; by 1913 though absolute numbers had increased Ramsey handled 2% and this figure declined steeply after WW1.

Post 1880 the mass tourist industry was driven mostly by the Lancashire cotton towns which had the tradition of taking a one week 'Wakes week' holiday hence the common epithet of 'Cotton Ballers'- the actual season was compressed into some 10 to 12 weeks of intense activity outside of which little employment was to be had. Some comment re this can be seen the the 1880 description:


The Isle of Man is but little known to the higher classes of holiday-makers, though it is annually visited by many thousands of strangers. Those who flock thither are almost all persons of the lower middle class, and operatives from the thickly-populated towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. They make but a short stay, they ramble over the island, and their loud provincial tones are heard in boisterous merriment. In themselves these people are a study. You see the best of the working class of the North away from their factories and workshops, and though your taste may be oftentimes offended at rude jokes and noisy merriment, yet they are essentially an independent and hard-working class, even in their amusements. But the Isle of Man may fairly claim a visit from persons of higher culture than these. Regarded simply as a health resort, there can be no question that it is the most thorough sea residence in the kingdom. On every side is the sea, and from whatever quarter of the compass the wind chooses to blow it comes from the sea, and there is scarcely a spot in the thirty-three miles from the Point of Ayre to the bold cliffs of the Calf of Man, unless it be some narrow inland glen, from which the ocean in its various moods cannot be seen. Throughout its entire length, a chain of sloping, gently-curved hills arises, from North Barrule (1,842ft.) to Snaefell (2,024ft.), and from Snaefell to Cronk-ny-Jay-Laa [sic Cronk-ny-Iree-Lhaa] (1,145ft.), "the hill of the rising day," from which the sun may be seen ascending from the sea and setting to the west, beyond the dimly-defined outlines of the Mourne mountains. The sea views are, in fact, perhaps more striking than in any part of the United Kingdom, except the north-west coast of Scotland. But in the Isle of Man they are broader and almost as bold; the rugged masses of Spanish Head, the mellow colouring of the Calf, and the wide expanse of waters on every side, dotted by scores of herring boats, is a scene which in its breadth is unequalled on any of our coasts. The absence of trees renders the land views cold and harsh, but it is the general coast views, the glens and coves which open to the sea, which are the characteristic and charming portion of Manx scenery; whilst the genial winters and cool summers produce some vegetation quite abnormal in this latitude. There are dozens of cottages protected by high hedges of fuchsias-one mass of bright, hanging flowers-whilst the delicate veronica flourishes in shrubs six feet in height, Spectator.

Comments made to the 1911 MacDonnell commission indicate that substantial numbers of these arrivals were 'day trippers' - Thomas Stowell, general manager of IoM Railways stated that:

The number of visitors to the Island seems to be steadily increasing, but the average "stay" is not so long now as it used to be, and in consequence the board and lodging house business is not individually quite so flourishing. The competition is keen and prices are low and in some cases not remunerative. The week-end tripper is increasing, the facilities offered by the carrying companies conducing to this.

The length of the visiting season, too, is not expanding, although heroic efforts have been and are still being made by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company in putting on their largest and fastest steamers in June and continuing until the end of September to try to encourage the people to visit the Island, but without success, and I fear at a loss to that company.

The TT motorcycle races, which possibly became the best known Island attraction, were developed as one scheme to extend the season - outside of Lancashire the school year concentrated family holidays into August. Ducker, President of Boarding and Lodging House Association, in his evidence to MacDonnell [Vol 2 Appendix XXX pp279/80] makes the point even more strongly:

You have been told, my Lord, our visitors increase considerably every year. Until 1903 our visitors did increase. For ten years anterior to 1903, the increase is 100 per cent., subsequently it is otherwise. (Mr. Corkill reported in his evidence before the Commission: in 1910, we have 120,000 daily trippers in 500,000 visitors.) A decrease in staying guests of 5 per cent. The daily tripper who arrives at Douglas at 1.30 p.m. and returns at 4 p.m. benefits Douglas to the extent of a 2d. fare on the tram. The lack of elasticity in our revenue of recent years shows this very conclusively.

One suspects the day tripper, if nothing else, at least bought a pint or two in the many pubs !

Birch comments that by 1960 the Island was seen a purely working class resort dominated by Douglas and from the 1920's onwards viewed by many as a fading resort living on its late Victorian legacy.


J.W.Birch The Isle of Man A Study in Economic Geography Cambridge: University Press 1964 - gives an excellent discussion of the tourist industry post 1950 though it was obviously already in significant decline.

J Belchem (ed.) A New History of the Isle of Man Vol V the Modern Period 1830-1999 Liverpool: University Press 2000 (ISBN 0-85323-726-3) - the chapter on Economic History is generally derivative and offers little discussion; the passenger arrivals figure was drawn from statistics given in the statistical appendix.

HMSO Report of the Departmental Committee on the Constitution &c. of the Isle of Man London: HMSO (Cd 5950, & Cd 6026)1911 - MacDonnell Commission of 1911.

  Manx Note Book


Tourism etc.

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2002