[From Brown's Directory, 1881/2]

[Historical Chapter]


This event was of the greatest importance to the Manx people, both politically and socially, and it may be well to pause for a moment, and look back upon the closing scenes of the long rule of the great House of which he was the last representative in the Isle of Man. In estimating the results of the Government of the last Lord of Man, of the House of Atholl, we must take into consideration the circumstances in which he was placed, and the various and often conflicting influences by which he was surrounded. It was his misfortune, and the misfortune of the people over whom he was placed, to succeed to a policy as well as to an inheritance when he became Lord of Man—a policy which was both narrow and selfish, but which he lacked strength of mind to cast aside. Personally he was an able and enlightened man, having the interests of the people (or what he considered such) at heart; and, whenever they did not clash with his own personal interests, always ready to support them with his personal exertions and influence. But though he was the hereditary Lord of Man, and the last representative of a long line of kings and lords, and though, especially during his later life, he spent much of his time in the Island (where he had built for himself the beautiful residence of Castle Mona), he was far more a Scotchman than a Manxman, and his sympathies and associations were far more with Scotchmen than with Manxmen. He was at best an alien ruling over strangers, with whom he had but little in common, of interest or sympathy; and who, in return, had even less sympathy or fellowship with him. Unfortunately, too, for his reputation, for the success of his Government, and for the welfare of the people, and, we may add, for his own peace of mind, he had inherited the idea that the Isle of Man was his private estate, and that it was his duty, as well as his interest, to make it as profitable as possible to himself and family; and hence the grasping, covetous spirit which he displayed in his dealings, both with the inhabitants and with the English Government. He ruled the Island much as a needy landlord would have managed an unprofitable estate, and not as a sovereign regulating the affairs of a country, and responsible for the welfare of its inhabitants. His object was to make it the source of as large a revenue to himself as possible ; and, when it became more profitable to sell his sovereignty, his one anxiety was to sell it for as much as. possible. The prosperity and well-being of his subjects were never allowed to interfere with the success of these transactions. They were secondary objects, possessing undoubtedly a certain importance of their own; but they were only to be considered when his own immediate interests were not affected. Is it possible to imagine a greater condemnation of any government than this, that a ruler should thus deliberately subordinate the interests of those under his rule to his own private advantage? And yet such was, in effect, the ruling principle of that policy which the Duke of Atholl had inherited from his predecessors, and upon which he acted throughout his long connection with the isle of Man of 56 years; and thus it was that, when he sold his kingdom, in 1829, he left it almost as miserable and degraded as his ancestor, Sir John Stanley, found it in 1406. The Duke retired to Scotland, where he died at Dunkeld, September 29, 1830, in the 76th year of his age.

From this time the affairs of the Isle of Man have been administered by a Lieutenant-Governor; but in other respects its political condition remained unchanged. During the later years of the government of the late Duke of Atholl the office of Lieutenant-Governor had been ably filled by Colonel Smelt, in honour of whom a memorial was erected in the Market Place of Castletown (at that time the capital of the Island and the seat of the Insular Government), in the form of a stone column, bearing a suitable inscription, in 1836. He was succeeded on his death, in 1832, by Major-General Ready, who retained the appointment until his death, in 1845. These appointments, however appropriate upon general considerations, were, owing to local circumstances, productive of much dissatisfaction among the Manx people. According to the Insular mode of procedure, the Lieutenant-Governor is the Chancellor of the Island, and, as such, presides in the Manx Court of Chancery; and great practical inconvenience, it appears, had been experienced from the office of Lieutenant-Governor being held by military men, totally unacquainted with legal principles and practices. To remove this grievance, which, it was felt, was a real one, the Crown, on the death of Governor Ready, in 1845, appointed to the vacant office the Honourable Charles Hope, son of the Earl of Hopetown, and M.P. for Linlithgow—a member of both the English and Scottish bars. Under his experienced direction the affairs of the Island were energetically and liberally administered, and several measures tending largely to advance the material prosperity and interests of the Island were introduced into the Insular Legislature, and ultimately received the Royal sanction. In 1847 an incident occurred which demonstrated in a pleasing manner the hearty loyalty of the Manx people. In that year the Queen, accompanied by the Prince Consort, on her return from Scotland, coasted along the eastern shore of the Island, anchoring in Ramsey and Douglas Bays. At Ramsey the Prince landed and climbed to the top of a wooded height above the town, from which he obtained a fine view of the town and the surrounding country. This Royal visit to Ramsey was commemorated by the erection of the "Albert Tower," on the hill-top from which the Prince viewed the country. Leaving Ramsey Bay, the Royal yacht sailed southward to Douglas, where she cast anchor; but none of the Royal party landed at Douglas. In the meantime the news had spread, causing great excitement among the people. Messengers were despatched to Castletown to inform the Governor of the arrival of her Majesty in Douglas Bay, and from all parts the people crowded into the town to welcome their Sovereign to their shores.

When the Governor and the other officials reached Douglas they found, to their chagrin, that the Royal vessel had sailed away. Of course, no blame was attachable to Governor Hope for this unfortunate contretemps; but the people vented their disappointment upon him, the mob of Douglas hooting him through their streets and pelting his carriage with mud and stones. For long afterwards the people showed their vexation by singing satyrical rhymes concerning the Governor, of which the following is a specimen : —

Hey! Charley Hope, where are you now?
The mob are kicking up a row—
The very dogs do hark bow-wow
To welcome the Queen to Mona!

Sharing in the political excitement which in France had produced the Revolution of 1.830, in the Netherlands, the kingdom of Belgium, and in England the Reform Bill of 1832 with all its consequences, an agitation sprung up in favour of representative government as it is understood in modern times. From the earliest days of its history the Manx Government had been a constitutional one, the authority of the King being more or less limited by the authority of the people as represented in the great Council of the nation, called the Tynwald Court. This Council, which is presided over by the Governor, as representing the Sovereign, consists of two branches—the great officers of the King, or Council; and the House of Keys, originally the representatives of the great body of the people, but who had early got rid of the popular sanction to their election, and were practically self-elected. This principle of self-election in a legislative body was so opposed to the modern idea of representative government that a vigorous movement against it was originated during Governor Hope’s administration and continued through many years, until, in 1866, it finally met with complete success.

Another movement equally significant of the growth of political life in the country, and of its steady progress in population and prosperity, was the agitation which gradually developed itself about this time in Douglas, and, later, in Ramsey in favour of local self-government. From the earliest times, owing to its central position and fine bay, Douglas had been a place of some importance, and possessed, until 1818, a relic of its ancient consequence in the old "Pictish" fort which defended the entrance to its port. But its modern importance dates from the time of the smuggling trade of the Island in the beginning of last century. Of that brief period of prosperity the old town of Douglas still bears unmistakable signs in its narrow, winding streets and its numerous openings and bye-ways, so admirably adapted to meet the exigencies of "the trade ;" and in the size and substantial character of many of the old houses in these narrow lanes. After the decline of the smuggling trade, a season of depression and distress followed which greatly tried the resources of both town and country; but the admirable position of the Island, and the natural advantages which accompanied it, soon produced a reaction, and ultimately trade began to revive, persons of limited incomes were attracted to the country, and Douglas steadily regained its former prosperity. In 1830, a company was formed in Douglas for establishing steam communication between Douglas and Liverpool, and began operations in that year with two vessels. Thus encouraged by frequent and regular communication with England, the trade of Douglas rapidly increased, and as the Island became better known to the inhabitants of the cotton and woollen districts, they began to make it their favourite stopping-place in their summer holidays. This new source of wealth to the Island has grown steadily year by year, until now more than 100,000 persons annually visit it during the season, which extends from June to October, and this number, vast as it is, is rapidly increasing. As the reputation of the Isle of Man as a summer watering-place spread, communication was opened with it from other points of the neighbouring coasts; and during the season large and commodious steamers run regularly to Douglas from Silloth, Whitehaven, Barrow, and Fleetwood, and also from Glasgow and the North of Ireland. In 1854, a packet company was formed in Ramsey, and a steamer placed upon the station; but, after a struggle of eight years, it collapsed in 1861, since which time the Douglas company have run a steamer between the northern capital and the opposite coast. During this period, as the old smuggling spirit died out, the Insular sea-faring population turned their attention to more legitimate employments, and, sharing in the prosperity of the foreign trade, and "the summer visitation," the Manx fisheries, which had long been in a declining condition, began to revive. The old coast and shore fisheries were more vigorously prosecuted, and new fishing grounds sought far and near. Thus followed, the old fisheries have steadily improved, while new ones have been developed, that for mackerel off the south-west coasts of Ireland being especially valuable. With the improvement in the fisheries, and the greater extension of the fishing grounds, has come a corresponding improvement in the size of the boats and gear employed; and the Island now (1879) possesses a magnificent fleet of about 400 fishing-boats of from 30 to 40 tons burden, manned by about 3000 men and boys. Accompanying these important commercial and industrial changes there grew up a corresponding movement in favour of improving and extending the harbour accommodation of the principal ports of the Island, and especially of Douglas. While the trade of the Island was small, and confined to sailing vessels of inconsiderable tonnage, the scanty accommodation provided in its different ports satisfied its requirements; but with the development of its foreign trade and the growth of its fisheries, and especially since the birth of its reputation as a summer watering-place, its existing harbour accommodation was found to be altogether insufficient for its requirements, and it became an absolute necessity to undertake new harbour works at the chief ports. As early as 1835, this was felt so strongly that the Harbour Commissioners memorialised the Treasury respecting the erection of a breakwater in Douglas Bay. To enlist the sympathies of the people and merchants of Liverpool (a town long and intimately connected with the Isle of Man) in this project, the High Bailiff of Douglas, James Quirk, Esq., got up a public meeting in that town, at which a petition was drawn up and forwarded to the Government in favour of Sir John Rennie’s plan. After a lengthened negotiation with the Government, the Tynwald, in 1860, finally adopted the designs and estimates of Mr Abernethy for a breakwater for Douglas 1100 feet long, costing £50,000, to spring out from the south side of the harbour inside Douglas Head; one for Peel, to cost £10,000; and one for Ramsey, to cost £6,000. These works were to be formed of a stout creosoted timber superstructure upon a sloping foundation of loose rubble. These structures being the best obtainable under the existing circumstances of the country, their erection was universally welcomed by the Manx people; but experience soon proved that they were not strong enough to resist the storms which, in winter, rage around the Manx coasts, and — long before it was finished the Douglas breakwater was swept away by a succession of heavy gales, while those at Peel and Ramsey have had to be cased with concrete blocks and otherwise strengthened, to prevent their succumbing to the waves and the ravages of the sea storms.

This period also witnessed the development of the great lead mines which, at the present time, form the third great industry of the Isle of Man. Traces of ancient mining operations have been found at Bradda Head and in the Calf, and numerous references to the Insular mines occur in the Statute Book of the Isle of Man. But its existing mines all date from the period now under notice. The earliest of them, the Great Laxey Mine, about eight miles north of Douglas, was begun about 1780; but it was not worked regularly owing to the influx of water and the absence of proper pumping apparatus. But in 1854, a huge water wheel for pumping the mine was erected, and since then the mine has rapidly developed, and is now one of the most valuable in the world. It employs a large number of hands, and raises immense quantities of copper, blende, and lead ores, the latter richly impregnated with silver. The other great Manx lead mine—the Foxdale Mine—is situated upon the eastern side of South Barrule, in the immediate neighbourhood of the granite mountain. The present company was formed in 1823, and employs some hundreds of men, and the raising of lead ore is very large, with a rich proportion of silver.

Changes equally great took place also in the country districts. Stimulated by the new markets thus opened for agricultural produce, the land came rapidly into general cultivation. Old lands were more carefully worked, and new lands were broken in; improvements, greatly needed, for the methods and implements of the Manx farmers were both primitive and inefficient, were gradually introduced; and now Manx farming is scarcely inferior to that of any other country, and, notwithstanding the small size of most of the holdings, machinery is employed almost as commonly as it is in England or Scotland. As a result of these improvements, in addition to supplying the requirements of the country and its numerous visitors in almost everything except wheat and flour, the Island now exports to England a considerable amount of farm produce, including potatoes, turnips, eggs, and fat cattle and pigs. Amid all these changes, the towns, and especially Douglas, the modern capital and the centre of the trade of the Island, have made advances at least equally great. Fifty years ago Douglas was a collection of mean looking houses, crowded together in the confined space between the sea, the harbour, and the steep cliffs which border the bay. Its streets were narrow, winding lanes, mostly without raised footpaths, and paved with boulders from the shore; and its shops were small and dark—in keeping with its streets. But with the revival of its trade, and especially with the growth of its summer trade as a watering place, it began to spread itself beyond its ancient limits; and a new town began to spring up to the north and west of the old town, whose broad streets and fine houses, and handsome hotels fully rival those of other fashionable sea-side towns. With the growing importance of Douglas, and the gradual spread of more liberal ideas among its inhabitants from their close connection with England, the necessity for a change in the management of the affairs of the towns gradually developed itself. Hitherto the police arrangements of the towns had been under the direct authority of a Crown official called a High-Bailiff (whose duties and position were very similar to those of the old Reeves of the English boroughs before incorporation), while their streets, &c., were under the control of the Highway Board—a committee of the Tynwald Court. But with the growth of the towns, especially those which had participated most in the "summer visitation "—Douglas and Ramsey—arose new wants and new necessities which the old organisation utterly failed to meet, and which it was properly felt could only be adequately grappled with by those concerned through their duly elected representatives. This led, ultimately, to the partial incorporation of the two towns named, and the placing of their affairs in the hands of a body of representatives elected by the ratepayers, called Town Commissioners. The first election of Town Commissioners for Douglas took place July 24th, 1860, and S. Harris, Esq. (the present High Bailiff of Douglas), was, at their first meeting elected chairman a position analagous to that of mayor of an incorporated town. This great concession to popular necessities greatly assisted the progress of the town, and through it, of the whole community. From their first entry upon office, the Town Commissioners vigorously undertook the improvement of the town, levying an improvement rate and expending it in lighting, cleaning, draining, and otherwise placing the affairs of the town in a more satisfactory condition.


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