[From Brown's Directory, 1881/2]

[Historical Chapter]


Having for a long time experienced the inadequacy of their powers to carry out the objects for which they were elected, the Douglas Town Commissioners, in ‘the early part of 1864, introduced into the Legislature an elaborately drawn up bill to extend and consolidate their powers. This bill, known as "The Douglas Town Amendment Bill," came before the House of Keys for consideration on Tuesday, February 23rd, and, after a lengthy discussion extending over four days, in which several members of the House displayed the greatest reluctance to extending the powers of the Commissioners, and in the course of their opposition to the bill indulged in personal remarks concerning the Town Commissioners, whom one of them styled "mere tradesmen," and suggested that as they appeared to claim royal authority they should be called kings, and permitted to wear crowns. The bill was thrown out, owing to its not obtaining the legal majority of the entire House (13); ten voting for its passing, as amended by them, and eight voting against it—eighteen members of the House only being present.

This untoward event produced a profound sensation throughout the whole country. On March 1st, the Town Commissioners held a special meeting, at which it was unanimously resolved to re-introduce the rejected bill without delay. In reporting the proceedings of the House of Keys, The Isle of Man Times, the leading Liberal journal, on Feb. 27th, 1864, commented upon them in very severe terms, and this was followed up by other strongly-worded articles in the issues of that journal for March 5th and 12th. Of the other two Insular newspapers, the Manx Sun, the organ of the Conservative party in the Island, substantially supported the action of the Keys, while the Mona’s Herald, a moderately Liberal paper, condemned the proceedings of the House in a violent article published in its issue of March 2nd. This show of popular condemnation, so far from intimidating the majority in the House of Keys, or making them hesitate, only made them the more determined in their opposition to all further innovations. They conscientiously believed that this was the only way left to them of preserving untouched their own position and privileges, which had been for some time past vigorously and persistently assailed in the two Liberal journals. Accordingly, on the 15th March, when summoned to Castletown for the despatch of public business, before considering the subjects for the consideration of which they had been convened, Mr J. M. Jeffcott brought before the notice of the House "certain articles which had appeared in one, he might say two, of the Insular papers, relative to this House, and which reflected on this House and its privileges. The first articles ne rererinu to were contained in the numbers of The Isle of Man Times for February 27th, March 5th, and March 12th; and, respecting these articles, he moved the following resolution

House of Keys, 15th March, 1864, by adjournment from the 26th February, 1864. It is hereby resolved by this House that certain libellous and scandalous paragraphs published in the newspaper called The Isle of Man Times and General Advertiser, of the 27th day of February last, and incorporated with what purports to be a report of the proceedings of this House, also a certain libellous and scandalous article published in the said newspaper of the 5th day of March instant, headed "The House of Keys and the Douglas Town Commissioners," and also a certain other libellous and scandalous article published in the said newspaper of the 12th day of March instant, headed "The House of Keys and the Town Commissioners," are a contempt of this House and a breach of its privileges.

Mr. Harrison seconded the motion. After a short discussion, in which Messrs LaMothe, B. Gell, and the secretary (R. J. Moore). took part in favour of the motion, it was agreed to without a division. Mr Jeffcott next moved that certain articles which were published in The Isle of Man Times of the above dates, having been declared by the House to be a contempt of this House and a breach of its privileges, "It is, therefore, resolved and ordered that James Brown, the printer and publisher of the said newspaper, be summoned to attend at the bar of this House at eleven o’clock on Wednesday, the 16th of March, to answer for such contempt and breach of privilege; and it is hereby ordered that the said James Brown do so attend." Mr Callister seconded this motion, which was also agreed to without a division. Mr Jeffcott then moved similar resolutions with regard to a certain article which appeared in the Mona’s Herald of March 2nd, and for the attendance of John C. Fargher, the printer and publisher of that newspaper, at the bar of the House at eleven o'clock the following day—both of which motions were agreed to without divisions. The House then adjourned until the next day at ten o’clock, resolutely refusing to transact any public business until it had vindicated its "privileges."

Wednesday, March 16th.—the House of Keys assembled at ten o’clock, twenty one members being present, and sat in private session until eleven o’clock, when the doors were thrown open and the public admitted. On Mr Brown being called, he appeared at the bar accompanied by his counsel, A. W. Adams, Esq., and claimed to be heard by counsel, according to rule. The House, however, refused to permit Mr Adams to speak for his client, and Mr Brown was thus forced to defend his own case personally. This he proceeded to do with great ability and extraordinary vigour, vindicating the truthfulness and honesty of his remarks in the articles impugned, and maintaining his determination to stand by them at all risks. The House then sat in secret for two hours, and on its re-opening, the speaker, E. M. Gawne, Esq., informed Mr Brown that "the House, having already resolved that he had been guilty of contempt and breach of privilege, and that as the course which he had pursued that morning was considered by the House an aggravation of the contempt, the House had, therefore, resolved that he should be imprisoned in the gaol of Castle Rushen for six calendar months." Mr Brown was then immediately removed in custody of the chief constable to Castle Rushen gaol.

After a short adjournment the second offender, Mr John C. Fargher, was called to the bar of the House. On being charged with having committed a contempt of the House and a breach of its privileges, he repeatedly expressed his regret for having offended, and also professed his readiness to publish an apology in the next number of his journal. The House then sat in private for an hour and a quarter; and when the public were again admitted, the Speaker said, that "he had to inform Mr Fargher that, in consideration of the apology which he had made at the bar of the House, and the retractation he had made of the offensive article alluded to, if he published in his next paper an apology which would be satisfactory to the House, no further notice would be taken of the offence." The House then adjourned to the next day (Thursday, March 17th), when it made a show of proceeding with the public business for which it had been called together, by considering the Petty Sessions Bill; but little real progress was made, and soon after the House again adjourned to the next day. (Friday, March 18th).—On that day the House continued the discussion on the Petty Sessions Bill, and the Summary Jurisdiction Bill, but on being officially informed of the sudden and dangerous illness of one of its most prominent members—Mr LaMothe, the leader in the opposition to the Douglas Town Amendment Bill—who had been seized with an apoplectic fit on the previous day, and now lay in a hopeless condition, it adjourned to April 12th. Mr LaMothe died late on Friday night. In connection with this event, strange stories were current at the time, which, in the excited state of men’s minds, were eagerly caught up and dwelt upon. Among others, it was said that as Mr Brown was being taken to prison he met Mr LaMothe, and said to him, "Good-bye, Mr LaMothe, I shall never see you again ;" and he never did; for two days later LaMothe lay on his death-bed. If this story is true, and there appears no ground for doubting its truth, it is a most singular instance of what some would term a strange coincidence, and others, a wonderfully fulfilled prediction. In either case it is a curious story, and marks distinctly the state of excitement produced in the public mind by these outrageous proceedings of the House of Keys.

Immediately upon his condemnation by the House of Keys, Mr Brown was taken into custody and carried off to Castle Rushen, where, with vindictive harshness, he was placed in that part of the prison set aside for criminals. Upon representations being made to the Governor of the unnecessary hardships which this would inflict upon the prisoner, he was removed to the debtors’ side of the prison, where the hardships of his confinement could be mitigated by the care of his relatives, and where he could receive the visits of his friends and sympathisers, who flocked to his prison in great numbers. Steps also were at once taken to test the legality of his arrest and imprisonment. Next day, his counsel, Mr Adams, applied to the House of Keys for a copy of the Resolution and Warrant under which he had been summoned to the bar of the House and committed to prison, and measures were immediately taken to appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a writ of Habeas Corpus.

The news of these high-handed proceedings of the House of Keys produced the greatest excitement throughout the country. From one extremity of the Island to the other, and in every rank of society, nothing was talked of but the arbitrary conduct of the Keys, and the bold, unfaunted behaviour of the imprisoned journalist, and, with the exception of a small and insignificant party, whose organ was the unpatriotic Manx Sun, the proceedings of the Keys were universally condemned as impolitic and unconstitutional. As soon as it was known that Mr Brown intended to appeal to the English Courts, subscriptions towards defraying the costs of his appeal rapidly flowed in; and his determination thus to champion the public liberties against the aggressive action of the self-elected Keys made him the unquestionable hero of the day. With regard to his less resolute fellow-journalist, the feeling was one of general pity approaching almost to contempt Everywhere he was unfavourably contrasted with the less pliant proprietor of The Times, and even with his own father, the founder of Mona’s Herald, and a staunch Liberal, who, it was said, would have gone to prison and stayed there all his life rather than have disgraced himself by a recantation made to escape punishment. It is, however, only fair to say that Mr Fargher’s health has always been delicate, and that at that time he felt himself physically unfit for the hardships of a prison life. The excitement caused by these events was not confined to the Isle of Man. From all parts of England letters of sympathy was received by Mr Brown, while articles, reflecting in the severest terms upon the arbitrary conduct of the Keys, were published in almost all the leading London and Provincial journals, many of which were afterward reprinted in the columns of The Isle of Man Times.

So far from the imprisonment of Mr Brown lowering the tone of the comments of his journal upon public topics, it seemed rather to have the opposite effect, and to make it more determinedly the champion of public rights. In the very next issue of The Times (March 19)was a strongly-worded article entitled "The Star Chamber and the Inquisition in the Isle of Man," in which the proceedings of the House of Keys were bitterly reviewed. In the number for March 26th was an article tracing the origin of the House of Keys, and showing that, anciently, it was an elective body, and that its existing self-elective constitution was an innovation and a usurpation of the popular rights. Week after week this course was kept up, powerful leading articles appearing in The Times and, in addition, contributions from Mr Brown himself from his prison in Castle Rushen; the excitement throughout the country was intense, and from the effects of the discontent with its constitution and proceedings thus produced, the House of Keys never recovered.

On April 25th, Mr Welsby, acting on behalf of Mr Brown, in the Queen’s Bench, moved for a writ of Habeas Corpus; and on Saturday, May 7th the case was argued before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, Mr Justice Blackburn, Mr Justice Mellor, and Mr Justice Shee. Mr Welsby and Mr Milward appeared for Mr Brown; and Mr Mellish, Q.C., and Mr Kemplay, for the Keys. The case having been elaborately argued by the Counsel for the Keys whether a writ of Habeas Corpus could issue from the Court to the Isle of Man, their lordships, without calling upon Mr Welsby to reply, intimated their unanimous opinion in the affirmative, and that the writ ought to be made absolute; upon which Mr Kemplay, on behalf of the Keys, yielded in their name, observing, "My lords, there is no occasion to issue the writ—because no doubt if it were issued and the case came on again for hearing, your lordships would express similar opinions to what you have uttered to day. I will take upon myself to guarantee that, in the absence of any writ, Mr Brown shall be immediately discharged from prison."

The news of this decision was at once telegraphed to the Island by Mr Adams, reaching Douglas about three o’clock in the afternoon; and Mr J. Gell, High-Bailiff of Castletown, who was conducting the case on behalf of the Keys, also telegraphed the decision to Mr Gawne, Speaker of the House of Keys, to withdraw the order under which Mr Brown was imprisoned. It was not, however, until about five hours later that Mr Brown was released from custody after an incarceration of seven weeks and three days. In deference to the urgent solicitations of the committee who had conducted his appeal, and of numerous friends, Mr Brown consented to defer his return home until Monday. On that day, accordingly, he returned to Douglas, accompanied by a large number of his friends and sympathisers. As he approached Douglas, many other carriages and people on foot joined the party, swelling its proportions into an immense procession, and in the streets through which his committee insisted on driving, he received a complete ovation. Proceeding to the Market place, he addressed a large crowd there assembled, and in the evening he was entertained at a public dinner. Throughout the entire Island the news of the defeat of the Keys and the release of Mr Brown, was received with great rejoicings; and at Port St. Mary, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Speaker’s residence, where Mr Brown had occasion to go on business, he received an enthusiastic wel come from the hardy fishermen, who rang the large bells of their vessels, and decorated them with flags and streamers.

Shortly after his release, Mr Brown filed an action at Common Law for false imprisonment, agaiust the twenty members of the House of Keys who had signed the warrant under which he was illegally committed to Castle Rushen, laying the damages at £2,000. On the 26th July, the Keys, through their counsel, Messrs Jas. Gell, A. N. Laughton, and L. W. Adamson, filed their plea, in which they argued, although the decision of the Queen’s Bench was to the contrary, that they had the power of committing for contempt. On the 24th September, Mr Brown filed a demurrer to this plea, in which it was contended that the said plea was "not sufficient in law to bar the plaintiff from having and maintaining his aforesaid action against the defendants." This plea and demurrer came on for argument before the "Full Court of Common Law," at Castle Rushen, on the 4th of November, when there were present his Excelincy the Lieut.-Governor (president), Deemsters Drinkwater and Stephen, and the Clerk of the Rolls. On the 1st December the Court gave its judgment, which overruled the plea set up by the Keys, but left them "to establish any other defence they may be advised upon the trial of the case upon its merits." This judgment confirmed the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench, that the Keys had no power to commit for contempt, and left only one point to be decided by the jury, namely, the amount of damages Mr Brown was entitled to for his illegal imprisonment. This point came on for trial on June 6th, 1865, before Deem ster Drinkwater and a special jury, at the Court House, Douglas. The trial extended over four days, and ended on June 17th, with a "verdict for the plaintiff with damages £518 19s 6d, with the costs of this suit to be taxed." This great case has been described at so great a length on account of the important constitutional questions involved in its issue, and the great influence which it exercised over the future relations of the House of Keys to the country and the Press. The imperious conduct of the Keys, and Mr Brown’s undaunted advocacy of freedom of dis cussion, struck a death-blow at the House of Keys as a self-elective body, and though it lingered on a little while longer, it was with greatly diminished prestige, and its proud pretentions collapsed ignominiously on the first real assault.

But during the course of this great contest several important events took place. The Douglas Town Commissioners, undaunted by their defeat of the 26th of February, re-introduced their bill for extending and consolidating their powers; and, being strongly supported by the influence of the Lieut.-Governor, it rapidly passed the Council, and was again laid before the House of Keys, on April 12th, 1864. On the 26th it was taken into consideration, and, after a protracted discussion, ex tending over three days, it passed through the House, with several important alterations. On May 3rd the Douglas Town Commissioners held a meeting, at which the persistent disinclination of the Keys to grant them any real share in the government of the town was strongly animadverted upon, and especially their refusal to lessen the enormous and unjust contribution of three shillings per annum for each inhabited house in the town, levied by them towards the maintenance of the country roads; and a determined opposition to the "amendments" introduced into their bill by the Keys, was unanimously resolved on. On May 19th and 20th the House of Keys met for business at Castletown, when the Governor brought before the House the alterations introduced by it into the Douglas Town Amendment Act, which he explained would not only seriously cripple the efforts of the Town Commissioners to drain and otherwise improve the town, but would also have the practical effect of causing the Imperial Government to refuse it their sanction, one of the amendments objected to being opposed to an express understanding with the Crown; on these grounds he requested the House to re-consider the bill with a view to restoring it to its original form. But he urged in vain. The majority persistently refused to rescind their votes, and it was only after repeated conferences with the Governor and Council, and on the distinct statement that a continued refusal to re-consider their amendments would cause the rejection of the bill, and thus bring the whole question before the country again, with perhaps worse consequences, that they consented to a compromise on some of the points in dispute. But even now they absolutely refused to lessen the tax for the country roads levied on the town. These partial concessions were accepted by the Council; and the bill, after some delay in the Home Secretary’s office through a misapprehension of its scope by the law-officers of the Crown, received the royal assent and was formally promulgated on Tynwald Hill on July 26th. These proceedings of the Keys, showing clearly, as they did, the selfish and arbitrary spirit by which the majority of the self-elected House were ruled, were highly prejudicial to the continuance of their authority; and, by still further alienating the people, prepared the way for a radical change in the constitution of the House. The people, thoroughly indignant, and alarmed at the expressed intention of the Tynwald Court to impose a lunatic asylum rate, presented a petition to the House of Commons in June, in which they complained of the injustice of a non-representitive body, like the then House of Keys, assuming the right to impose taxes upon the country, and prayed for a return to the ancient representative constitution of the Keys.

During the year (1864) repeated disasters befell the breakwater in process of erection on Mr Abernethy’s plans, in Douglas Bay. It was found that the heavy waves washed away the loose "rubble" foundation, and that the superstructure of creosoted timber was too weak to resist the pressure of the rubble-filled wooden frames which were placed upon it. On several occasions, during the winter and early summer the piles were found to have given way, and the wooden frames to be broken, and various attempts were made to strengthen the work, but with little real benefit, and it was with a feeling of relief that the Island received the announcement of the Governor at the Tynwald Court of the 26th July, that, in his opinion, the work in its present form had been extended far enough into the bay, and that it was now time to consider the necessity of a supplementary stone-built work from the opposite point of the Conister Rock. At this time the breakwater had been carried out only to about one half its proposed length (1100 feet), but its instability had become so apparent, and it was so manifestly giving way, that it was plain the first severe storm would sweep it away altogether. On November 12th a heavy gale passed over the Island, doing great damage to the framework of the breakwater. At a Tynwald Court held on November 24th, some correspondence between the Lieut.-Governor and the Harbour Commissioners was read, together with a report from Mr Hawkshaw, C.E., who had been called in to inspect the breakwater. In this report Mr Hawkshaw recommended that the breakwater should be strengthened, as a temporary measure, with additional piles and a broader rubble foundation; and that, as a permanent measure, it should be cased with stone. Also, that a low water landing jetty should be run out in an easterly direction from the end of the pier to provide a safe landing place for passengers at times when the steamers could not get up to the pier. The Court passed resolutions adopting this report, and appointing a committee (of which the Governor was a member) to take evidence upon the proposed low-water jetty. This committee met in the Court House, Douglas, on November 30th, and received a considerable amount of evidence, most of which was favourable to the suggestions made by Mr Hawkshaw. But before anything could be done a terrific storm from the S.E. (the most dangerous quarter) swept over the Island, on Sunday and Monday, the 29th and 30th January, 1865, doing great damage both on land and sea, and almost completely destroying the wooden part of the breakwater, the damage done to it being estitnated at above £20,000. The few wooden frames still remaining in position were swept away during some heavy weather which followed a few days after the great storm, and nothing but the rubble foundation (which was apparently uninjured) and a few broken piles projecting above the sea at low water, was left of the work from which so much had been expected, and upon which almost the entire accumulated fund allowed the Island out of its revenue by the English Government had been spent. All had been wasted in a pernicious experiment.

This failure necessitated the immediate adoption of some other more durable and consequently more expensive work. In older and more primitive times the visitors to Mona had been obliged to land in small boats when the state of the tide would not allow the steamer to enter the harbour, but these would now no longer submit to the danger and annoyance of this rude process; and it had become an absolute necessity, if Douglas, and through it the entire Island, were to retain even its existing trade, much less look forward to a more prosperous future, to adopt some scheme of harbour works for Douglas Bay, which should provide a well-protected pier, at which passengers should be able to land at all states of the tide. To this first essential continued prosperity of the country Governor Loch, with characteristic promptitude and energy, immediately addressed himself. The task before him was one from which most men would have shrunk. For a century past the entire surplus revenue of the Island had been appropriated by the English Government as interest, &c., on the amount expended on the purchase of the Inland from the Duke of Atholl, and though the aggregate sum thus absorbed was enormous, far exceeding the sums advanced by the English Exchequer on account of the Island (in the 30 years, from 1833 to 1863, the sums so received had amounted to £553,299, as appeared from a return made to the House of Commons in 1863), it showed no tendency to liberality in its dealings with the Manx, nor any inclination to give up to them their surplus revenue. Yet this, to compel the English Government to conclude some new and more liberal arrangement with respect to the surplus revenue of the Island, was the task which now lay before him, and until it was satisfactorily completed no progress what-ever in the desired direction could be made. It was utterly impossible, with the small amount at the command of the Tynwald Court for harbour and other purposes (one-ninth of the gross revenue of the Island) to undertake the erection of harbour works of the extensive and costly character which he believed necessary to the proper development of the resources of the country, while it would be equally vain to attempt to borrow the necessary sums upon such a slender security as the Island could offer. With these arguments in his hand, Mr Loch, in the beginning of 1865, entered into communication with the Home Government with the hope of inducing it to make some more liberal arrangement. The negotiation thus begun was continued throughout the year without producing any apparent result, and on several occasions he took opportunity to explain to the Tynwald Court, and through it to the country at large, that though his efforts had not, as yet, been crowned with the complete success he hoped for, yet there was no reason to fear they would end in failure. At length, the long-laboured-for moment came. On the 15th March, 1866, the Tynwald Court was summoned to meet at Castletown. Previous to the assembling of the Court, the House of Keys met in its own chamber at eleven o’clock, and sat with closed doors for nearly six hours, discussing, as it afterward appeared, the propriety of adopting the elective principle in their constitution, as proposed by them in 1853. Ultimately, they passed a resolution re-affirming their vote of that year. At five o’clock the Tynwald Court assembled to receive a statement of very great importance from the Lieut.-Governor. After referring to the circumstances under which he commenced his negotiation with the Imperial Government, the failure and complete destruction of the composite breakwater, the necessity for providing more extensive harbour works than had been at first contemplated, and the impossibility of doing so with the present impoverished resources of the country, he proceeded to say that the Home Government had at last yielded to his representations, and agreed to enter into a new arrangement with the Island with respect to the management of its finances. It would be allowed to tax itself to raise the necessary revenue, and the revenue thus raised it would be allowed to expend upon necessary harbour works and other improvements, after deducting the cost of its collection and the expenses of the Insular administration, together with a fixed sum of £10,000 to be paid annually into the Imperial Exchequer as a return for the military and naval defence of the Island, and as interest upon the capital invested in the purchase of the customs revenue—this payment, however, to be subject to the charge of £1,600 per annum, which was, by 27 and 28 Victoria, assigned as security for the Port Erin Works. But to these great concessions—concessions which furnished to the Island all that it required to complete its development and confirm its dawning prosperity— the Imperial Government had annexed the condition that the House of Keys should abandon its right to nominate to all vacancies in its body, and adopt the principle of popular election, in accordance with their offer made spontaneously in 1853; and in agreement with this condition the Lieut.-Governor, in conclusion, suggested that the following resolution should be adopted by the Court —That in consideration of the financial statement now made by his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, with the concurrence of the Imperial Government, from which it appears that substantial pecunary benefit will accrue to the Island; which statement is connected with the proposition that the elective principle shall be adopted in the future constitution of the House of Keys :—Resolved,—That this Court assent to the proposal of election in reference to the constitution of the House of Keys, and that a committee, consisting of two members of the Council and three members of the House of Keys, be appointed to act with the Lieutenant-Governor in preparing the act or acts which will be necessary to arrange the details of the proposed financial arrangement with the Imperial Government.

This resolution was moved by the Clerk of the Rolls and seconded by the Secretary to the House of Keys, and was adopted unanimously by the Court. The committee thus appointed was then nominated, and consisted of Deemster Drinkwater, the Clerk of the Rolls, and Messrs W. F. Moore, W. Callister, and H. J. Moore. The Court then adjourned.

In connection with these proposals the Insular Legislature, with the consent of the imperial Government, largely increased the duties charged upon wine, spirits, sugar, and tobacco, great care being taken to keep the duties thus increased considerably below those levied upon similar articles in England and Scotland; and, to prevent the country being flooded with spirits and other articles thus designated for increase, to the great loss of the Insular revenue, the increased rates were levied from the next day, March 16th, the express sanction of the House of Commons being obtained on the 15th.

On the 20th March, the Tynwald Court again assembled to receive the report of the committee appointed on the 15th. Their report fully endorsed the statements of the Lieut.-Governor, and recommended the adoption of the proposals contained in the Treasury Minute of the 30th December, 1865, upon which proposals the statements of his Excellency had been based, as highly advantageous to the Island. This report was, after some discussion, unanimously adopted; as was also a formal resolution agreeing to the proposals contained in the Ireasury Minute referred to. The Court was then adjourned until the Governor’s return from London, where, he announced to the Court, it was his intention to proceed without delay in order to make the necessary arrangements with the Government for carrying the proposed changes into effect.

By the great majority of the inhabitants, and especially in the towns, this great constitutional change was welcomed with enthusiasm; the Town Commissioners of Douglas passed a unanimous vote of thanks to the Lieut.-Governor for his services in bringing it about, and the Liberal press of the Island congratulated the people upon their restoration to their ancient though long lost privileges. Soon, however, rumours of powerful cabals to procure a highly restricted franchise, and to impose a property qualification for a seat in the House of Keys, which would be tantamount to closing its doors to all except the propertied party, who had hitherto monopolised place and power, began to agitate the people and cause the details of the scheme under consideration to be anxiously expected. At this time it appears that a larger measure of reform was contemplated by the Government than it was afterwards considered expedient to carry out, for on April 17th, the Harbour Commissioners, probably on receipt of an authoritative intimation that such a movement would be acceptable, passed a resolution approving of a clause which had been introduced into the "Isle of Man Customs’ Bill" making it lawful for the Lords of the Treasury, with the consent of the Tynwald Court, to make the Harbour Board an elective body.

On the 17th of April, the Act for carrying into effect the fiscal changes proposed in the Treasury Minute of December, 1865, and explained at length in the statement of the Lieut.-Governor, on March 15th, 1866, was committeed in the House of Commons, passed its third reading on April 23rd, and finally left the Upper House on May 4th.

On the 23rd of May, after two months of anxious expectation on the part of the country, the Manx Reform Bill—" The House of Keys Election Act, 1866, being an Act to render the House of Keys elective, and for other purposes "—was introduced into the House of Keys, having previously passed through the Council, and was first published in The Isle of Man Times. By this measure the Island was proposed to be divided into twelve electoral districts—the four towns, the six sheadings, and two "boroughs," formed by grouping together the Northern villages of Michael, Ballaugh, and Laxey, and the Southern villages of Onchan, Ballasalla, and Port St. Mary. Of these, Douglas was to receive three members, each of the other towns one member, each of the "boroughs" one member, and the remaining 16 members were to be divided among the sheadings, or shires. The franchise was fixed at £8 in the towns, and £14 in the country—a high qualification considering the low rental of houses, especially in the country. The duration of the House was limited to seven years, like the British House of Commons; and the position of the Sovereign with respect to it was as nearly as possible the same as her relation to the House of Commons, the Lieut. Governor, as her representative, having power given to him to prorogue or dissolve the House as necessity arose. A property qualification was established for members of the House of Keys, namely £100 a year in real estate, free of mortgages, or £50 a year in real estate and £100 a year clear derived from personal property. From this epitome it will be seen that this reform of the Manx House of Keys was conceived in an eminently conservative spirit, and that, while providing that the members should have the sanction of a popular election, and thus, to that extent, possess the authority conferred by the representative principle, the franchise was carefully limited to the narrowest circle possible, and included only a very small proportion of the population. Petitions were presented to the House during the discussion of the bill praying for a considerable reduction of the franchise qualification, and counsel appeared at the bar in support of their prayer; but they were disregarded, as might have been expected. The property qualification for members of the House, framed to conciliate the landed interest, was also retained; but an "amendment" was introduced abolishing the qualifying phrase that the property was to be free from encumbrances. During the passage of the bill through the House, the clause respecting the proposed "boroughs," or grouping of the large villages, was omitted, and the bill, as adopted, distributed the members thus :—Douglas, three members; Castletown, Peel, and Ramsey, one member each; and each sheading, three members. Some slight restrictions were also placed on the gubernatorial power of proroguing the House. One other point respecting the bill deserves notice here. It was at first proposed that the withdrawal of the members of the existing House should be gradual, extending over a period of four years. In the discussion on the bill it was resolved that the House should be dissolved in a body within three months after the promulgation of the Act, and that the new House should be elected within twenty-one days after.

The bill was read a first time on May 23rd, and passed the House on July 13th by a majority of 14—17 voting for the bill, and 3, Messrs E. M. Gawne (the speaker), E. C. Farrant, and P. T. Cuninghame, against it. On July 18th, the amendments introduced into the bill by the Keys were discussed between the Keys and the Council, and a compromise was ultimately adopted, which finally disposed of the bill. After some unexplained delay in the Home Office, the bill was returned some months later with the Royal Assent affixed, and was formally promulgated according to the ancient custom from the Tynwald Hill on December 20, 1866. As an act of courtesy to the expiring House, the Government offered a knighthood to E. M. Gawne, Esq., of Kentraugh, near Castletown, the Speaker of the House of Keys; but the offer was not accepted by him.


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