[From Ramsey Courier 14 March 1930 - part 7 of a series]
by a Retired Rector
In looking at Castletown, the first object that attracts our attention, is the grand and massive buildings of Castle Rushen, with its age-long walls and ancient history. I do not intend in this article to refer to its historic incidents, which go back over a thousand years, but only to some of the events of the last half century. Up to that time the Castle was reserved for debtors and criminals, and it was generally considered a good thing when imprisonment for debt was abolished. The first gaoler I recollect was Mr Kermode, who had been Inspector of Police at Ramsey, and was a very able and efficient officer. The prison however has for some years now been removed to Douglas, and the Castle is now chiefly famous for its antiquities, though the law courts still sit there. The last execution at Castle Rushen took place well over 50 years ago, and I believe it was the last public execution ever performed by the celebrated Calcraft. It was that of Kewish, for the murder of his father, whom he shot with an old fowling piece, which he afterwards hid in the thatch of their farmhouse in Sulby Glen. I remember the circumstances well. There were several people at the time who thought Kewish should not have suffered the extreme penalty of the law, owing to his weak intellect. Among these were the late Mr John Killip, shoemaker, of Sulby, an earnest local Wesleyan preacher, and others of the parish of Lezayre. A few days before his execution, Mr Killip visited Kewish in gaol to administer religious consolation and comfort to him, which he gladly accepted. Mr Killip - and some more, including myself - considered that in consequence of Kewish's weak intellect, and not being always responsible for his actions, it would have been better, if the poor man had been placed in an asylum for life. However the judges and jury thought different. It is, of course, a terrible thing for a son to kill his own father.
I now come to relate a mysterious murder - that of John Kermode, the aged mail-cart driver, between Douglas and Castletown, on a dark January night, either in 1867 or 1868 - I cannot remember which, though I recollect it well. In those far off days, the steamer only came to Douglas from Liverpool three times a week - Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the three mail carts from Ramsey, Peel, and Castletown met the steamer when it arrived at Douglas, at the Quay, to convey the mails to their destination. On this particular night, the mail cart arrived very late in Castletown; but I cannot do better than describe the incidents as they were related to me by the late French Master, of King William's College, my kind old friend Mr V. Pleignier, in almost his own words. He was walking with a friend in the town that night, waiting for the post, when about 9 p.m. he saw the mail-cart coming into town without a driver, the horse appearing to know its way, though going very slowly. The police and a crowd gathered. On examining the cart, marks of blood were discovered on the shafts and elsewhere. Strange to say, the mails were intact, which showed that the motive was revenge, not robbery. Search was then made for Kermode, as it was felt that foul play had evidently taken place. Blood stains were found on a part of the road between Santon and Ballasalla. It was not till several hours had elapsed that the body was eventually discovered. It was found lying face downwards in a pond two fields distant from the high-road, and had evidently been carried all the way, and deposited in the water. This shows that more than one man must have been concerned in the crime. The victim, though old, was a big heavy man, and it would be well nigh impossible for one person to convey him the distance of two fields alone. It was generally thought at the time, and from medical evidence, that the unfortuneate man was attacked in a dark, lonely part of the road, struck on the head, and either rendered insensible, or killed on the spot. Probably the former, and the body carried over the fields, and placed face downwards in the water in order to make sure of suffocation and death. The question then arose as to the criminals. In those far off days, the police were not quite so alert as they are now, and it seemed a pity that the steamer which left Douglas the morning after the murder was not watched. Diligent search and enquiries were made by the authorities, but no evidence of any value could be obtained. Strong suspicion rested on certain persons, especially on an Irish family - and the crime was somewhat similar to those committed in Ireland - and others were also gravely suspected, but I had rather give no names. It appears, however, positively certain from what Mr Pleignier told me, that a violent quarrel had occurred only a few days before the crime between Kermode and another man, who wished to marry his (Kermode's) daughter. The old man refused to allow the girl to marry the man in question, whom he considered an unsatisfactory suitor. There is however no proof that this man had anything to do with the murder, though it seemed to be one of revenge. The crime must therefore remain a mystery for all time, and we must wait "the great day of disclosures."
There was, however, a strange sequel to this most mysterious crime. About nine or ten years afterwards a report appeared in an American paper, stating that a man who had just died there had before his death confessed to a priest that some years before he had taken part in a murder in the Isle of Man. Enquiries were, I believe, made, but nothing came of it, and whether it had any reference to Kermode or not, is doubtful, though it probably did.
Note.- I have now for the present come to the end of my "Memories", which may be of some interest to the people of the Isle of Man, where I spent so many happy years, - the great part of my life - and where I received so much kindness. The notes I have written are entirely from memory, as I have kept no diaries or books of reference. Before closing, I should ike to say how much I have been much interested in Mr W. H. Kneale's "Memories of Old Ramsey." He can go back eight or ten years further than I can; but at the same time, I can well remember the names of most of the people he mentions and also many of the events and incidents he records. My chief object, however, has been to describe events, etc., which happened in the country parishes long years ago.
The murder as described above is at variance with the newspaper reports quoted in "Manx Murders" chapter 19 which quotes extensively Mona's Herald of 17th Jan 1868 that states "Last night the mailcart was observed coming into Castletown at the top of the Green without a driver. ... The search was renewed again but nothing had been heard of him upto this morning (Wednesday)". John Kermode was not the usual driver as this was an extra mail - he was about 60 married with four adult children - a well known car driver (ie horse drawn cart driver). The body was found the following afternoon face down in the river about quarter mile off the main Ballasalla-Castletown road at 'the claddagh' - near Quayle's Folly. It was only when the body was collected for burial after the first inquest on Friday which had determined death by drowning that a head injury was seen and a second inquest ordered into the unusual affair. At the second inquest Dr Ring stated that it was his opinion that Kermode had not drowned and that the head would could have been caused by a blow from a sharp edged stick or stone. There was considerable bruising around the temple that could have been caused by a fall or a kick from a horse. The doctors did not think however that after such an injury he could have walked unassisted to the river. Dr Jones of Castletown was strongly criticised by the second inquest for giving conflicting evidence at the two inquests - apparently he had not removed Kermode's cap and thus had not seen the head injury.
The usual driver of the mail cart had been recently dismissed from the job for carrying unauthorised passengers and Kermode had been employed on a temporary basis - Mathias Caine husband of Kermode's niece had noticed the head wound when he came to collect the body - Caine also stated that Dr Jones appeared to be not completely sober. Kermode's employer, Wesley Bell, explained that he had been asked at short notice if Kermode could take the cart by William Quiggin who had the mail contract (but no longer drove the carts) - apparently Quiggin and Kermode were of very similar builds. Suspicion fell on Hugh Flynn who had been dismissed from the driver's job; Hugh's father Daniel wrote to the coroner that a slur had been thrown on his family by 'you Douglas bigots' (possibly as the Flynns were Catholic and there still remined considerable hostility in some quarters) and evidence was taken on the whereabouts of Flynn on the evening of the murder.
However the mystery was never cleared up and no one was charged.
Keith Wilkinson Manx Murders 150 years of Island Madness, Mayhem and Manslaughter Edinburgh: Mainstream publishing Co, 2003 (ISBN 1-84018-692-5)
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