[from Ellan Vannin vol 2 #8 p346/349 June 1927]


William Farrant.


IN a magazine devoted to the cause of Manx Nationalism, it is not, I think, inappropriate that a son should recall some fading memories of a Manx patriot. William Farrant was born at Ballamoar in the year 1826, whilst the memory of his grandfather’s and father’s prolonged (and expensive) legal fight with the youthful Bishop Murray, in a stout resistance to ecclesiastical exaction, was still recent. His father, the most extensive landowner in the north of the Island, was of a restless and energetic temperament, and ruled over his numerous tenants and workpeople with a patriarchal authority unknown to the present generation. His mother, who had added Ballakillinghan and Ballaquayle to the family estates, was a woman of large stature and of considerable mental endowments. It is a family tradition that she was one of the few women of her day who had mastered the intricate history of Poland, the despair of many students. Passing from King William’s College and his tutors to Magdalen College, Oxford, William Farrant early displayed his independence of thought and conduct by engaging in a contest with his tutor, Thorold Rogers, the formidable Professor of Economics, whose advanced views on religion and morality offended the young Manxman’s sense of propriety. A serious breakdown in health interrupted his University career, and, after several attacks, he was ordered by Sir William Gull to take up his residence in southern Europe. Here he spent many years of his life, gradually recovering his strength under the genial sun of Italy, of whose art and literature, language and customs, he could to the end of his life discourse with an encyclopaedic knowledge. In 1852 his father died, and he succeeded to the estate of Ballamoar, Jurby, into the development of which — then and for many years farmed by the owner — he threw himself with enthusiasm. As as preliminary step to the efficient drainage of the Ballamoar curraghs, he gathered up, and disentangled, the intricate legal web which hundreds of years of controversy between his ancestors and the obscurantist riparian owners along the Plane Drain had woven, resulting in lands waterlogged and too sour to be crop bearing. His speech before the Commission appointed to unravel the matter was a striking example of his picturesque and persuasive oratory. The result was the Land Drainage Act of 1875, which settled the vexed questions for a generation, and covered the curragh land with some of the finest crops in the district. On the reconstruction of the Agricultural Society, in 1850, he was its third president, winning the prize for the best kept farm in the north of the Island, a result attained by the more modern methods which he had introduced to meet the rising cost of labour and the increasing competition following upon the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Co-opted as a member of the self-elected Keys, in 1858, he was absent on the Continent when the right of the House to imprison for contempt was successfully challenged by the Editor of "The Isle of Man Times," an obsolete privilege which Mr. Farrant had urged his colleagues not to insist upon. The events which followed and eventuated in the dissolution of the House, and its re-election by popular suffrage in 1867, also occurred in his absence, and he did not seek re-election till the year 1875. He again retired in 1881, but yielded to the persistency of numerous deputations in 1883, when he was returned for Douglas in place of the late Mr. W. F. Moore, the shrewd and much respected head of the Cronkbourne sailmaking firm. From this date he sat as a member for Douglas, and later for Glenfaba till his death. During this period his political abilities reached their meridian. He early established his reputation as the foremost debater in the Keys, and fought many contests with those who, like the late Mr. A. N. Laughton, were of a more unbending character. Mr. Farrant’s political inclinations, though strongly tinged with conservatism, lay more in compromise with, than in opposition to, the radical or reforming view. This was first clearly demonstrated in his attitude towards the education question. The proposal to supplement the existing Church and private schools with a universal system of compulsory State education was strenuously opposed in the Keys. It might have been postponed for many years had not Mr. Farrant — who, though not in the Keys at the time, exercised great influence over his brother, then the leader of the stern unbending Tories — succeeded in a compromise which united the advocates and opponents in an agreed Bill. The vexed question of Redistribution was also dealt with by him in a manner which might, owing to his influence with the country members, have settled the question had not an unexpected hitch occurred. A working compromise was, however, afterwards agreed to, which has remained in operation,

On the Harbour Board his work was expected by the Manx public to be recognised by his appointment as Receiver-General. He was, however, passed over, as he was for the Crown Receivership, a post he had been actually promised in consideration of his faithful voluntary public service for over 30 years. In bad health at the time, he felt the implied official slur very keenly. He died in June, 1891, after twenty-two and a half years’ service as a member of the Keys, leaving behind him a reputation second to none amongst Manx worthies.

An ardent and well-informed horticulturist, he beautified his grounds at Ballamoar with rare trees and shrubs, including the magnificent Falconieri rhododendron, which for a long time has flowered annually in the open, at the time (and possibly even yet) the only plant of its species to do so in the British Islands. The hundreds of different kinds of deciduous trees at Ballamoar attest the extent of his labours. Every one was chosen and planted under his personal supervision.

As a platform speaker and debater he had few equals in a land of fluent speakers. Though somewhat turgid in his early days, he developed an incisive brilliancy of style, especially in replying to a debate, which was the delight of the generation to which he belonged, and was informed by a wide reading and travelled experience. His accounts of his experiences during the Crimean and Franco-Austrian Wars, and the Italian War of Liberation, were a source of never-ending interest to his relatives and friends. But his chief title to remembrance by his fellow countrymen was his deep and abiding love for his native land, his high sense of the dignity and importance of her institutions and especially of the deliberations of the assembly which he adorned, and the caution and astuteness with which he pressed her claims and defended her rights.


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