decorative heading


THE following journal of the Rev. John Gell's career during his seafaring life is a curious one, and shows the vicissitudes that have to be encountered during a state of warfare. His early life had evidently unsettled him, and rendered him rather unfitted for the ministry. He was a kind-hearted and benevolent man, but never got on in the church.

He was appointed chaplain of St. Mark's, Malew, in 1786, which he afterwards resigned, and was again appointed a second time in 1797. Some years after he went to Liverpool, and was curate to the Rev. Richard Blacow of St. Mark's in that town. Mr. Blacow was prosecuted for a libel upon Queen Caroline, and was imprisoned in the King's Bench. After his release from imprisonment, Mr. Blacow came over to the Isle of Man, and resided near Castletown.

In 1835 Mr. Gell was appointed to the Government chapel at St. John's, being then in the 75th year of his age,and died on the 29th January 1845, at which time his salary was £40 a year.

W. H.

April 1878.

decorative heading


JOURNAL kept by JOHN GELL, Son of the Rev. Samuel Gell,2 Vicar of the Parish of Kirk Lonan.

I BEING his only son, he sent me, when seven years of age, to school in the town of Douglas, under the tuition of the Rev. Mr. Moore3 of that town, with whom I continued till I was fourteen years of agee. My father having a large family, and his income being but small, he could not afford to send me to any respectable business. I was then sent to school to Captain Fannan,4 in the town of Douglas, by whom I was perfectly instructed in navigation, and at sixteen years of age I was bound an apprentice to Mr. J. Joseph Bacon5,a merchant in Douglas, to serve five years in the seafaring line.

Shortly after, upon Monday evening, we sailed in a ship called the "Six Sisters," bound to Barbadoes ; on the Sunday following we fell in with a French privateer about two leagues off Cork, and after two hours' desperate engagement our ship was obliged to surrender, our ammunition being exhausted, and she was made a prize of by the enemy, and was ransomed for £1500, and one month allowed us to proceed on our voyage. Owing to severe weather and contrar winds, and our ship being much damaged, the month allowed us was expired before we arrived at our intended port, and we unfortunately fell in with a large Spanish fleet homeward bound from Buenos Ayres, and were again taken by them prisoners, and landed in Cadiz, in Spain, and then imprisoned during nineteen weeks and upwards, upon very short allowance.

There happened at that time to be an exchange of prisoners, and we were marched, 240 in number, to Port Saint Lueas, a distance of many miles, and put on board of a Cartel6 bound to Portsmouth. When we arrived near to Cape Clear, in Ireland, we took by force possession of the Cartel (for which there is no law), and brought her into Douglas harbour, in the Isle of Man, where her captain and several of the exchanged prisoners died in a putrid fever.

Some few weeks afterwards I again sailed from Douglas in a large cutter, the property of the said merchant, Mr. Bacon, and bound to South Carolina, and within three leagues of that place we met with three American ships well armed, bound to France, and were by them taken prisoners and landed in Lorion, in France, and from thence marched to Donan prison, a distance of scores of miles, and there closely confined with hundreds of prisoners of different nations, nearly in a way of starvation, having very little to eat, and no beds, but merely a trifle of straw, without any covering but our own clothes, some of the prisoners dying daily, from eight to twelve in number.

Nine weeks we remained in this deplorable situation, till to our great joy 200 of us were marched to a harbour called Saint Maloes and put on board a Cartel bound to Plymouth, and when we arrived there, near the king's ships lying at anchor, the night being uncommonly dark, four of us took the Cartel's small boat, and got on shore unnoticed, and, being young and able, we made the best of our way towards Liverpool, travelling by night, through fear of being seen and impressed, and keeping, in Hidlands7 the most part of the day.

Passing through Bath, Bristol, Kingswood, Accon, Salisbury, Monmouth, Shrewsbury, Nantwich, Northwich, Chester, and Runcorn, and owing to our taking such roundabout roads to avoid pressgang and soldiers, we travelled 414 miles from Plymouth to Runcorn, nearly exhausted with fatigue and hunger, having no more than two shillings during the whole of our travels, which I procured for a black silk handkerchief which I sold off my neck.

When we were about an hour in a public-house in Runcorn, invited by a boatman to take some refreshment, we were seized by a pressgang from Liverpool, consisting only of six men, with whom we crossed Runcorn river, patiently pretending to be perfectly satisfied to enter into His Majesty's service, but when we had walked with them more than a mile, and no others being, in sight, as we were well provided with good sticks, we made a sudden stop, resolved to conquer or die on the spot, and forthwith a desperate engagement took place. Two of them had cutlasses, and four of them bludgeons, and we with our sticks, until one of them had his arm broken, and another desperately wounded in the head, and the rest sadly bruised by blows and falls. None of us were very much hurted excepting me, who received a cut in my head with a cutlass, which caused the blood to flow over my eyes and down my cheeks, that with difficulty I could see to hit my mark as I wished. Well battered and bruised, they at last made off, and our bloody engagaement ended, leaving us the glory of the field.

We then with all speed set out quite a contrary road, and concealed ourselves in a farmer's barn, by the farmer's liberty, until night., when he gave us a good supper, the only sufficient meal we had made use of during three weeks and more. The next morning he sent a man and horse with a letter from me to Mr. Leece,8 merchant in Liverpool, who sent for us to Liverpool in the night, and were put on board a Manx trader commanded by Edward Kegg of Castletown, and landed the day after in Derby Haven, when we were treated with great hospitality by Mr. Afflick and family, and he lent me his horse to ride to my father's in Kirk Lonon, as my head was so severely cut and bruised.

After I had been about a month at home Mr. Bacon sent for me, and informed me that he had employed Captain Barnes in Whitehaven to purchase a ship for him, and although I had two years yet to serve, that I should go mate of her, and as I was well instructed in navigation I consented to his proposals ; but on my return home, having made these proposals known to my parents, they very much disapproved of them, as I had been so unfortunate in the seafaring line, and they advised me to return to the grammar-school in Douglas, where I had formerly been, to which I consented; and Mr. Bacon generously giving up my indenture, I repaired forthwith to school, and my former master, the Rev. Mr. Moore, being dead, I was then under the tuition of the Rev. Mr. Quayle 9, where I continued until I was twenty years of age.

The bishopric of the Island being at that time vacant by the death of Bishop Mason,10 and no minister at St. Mark's Chapel, I was appointed there by the governor and archdeacon as a reader. About two years afterwards Bishop Crigan 11 was appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man, and shortly after his arrival I was ordained, being, the first that he ever ordained, and was licensed chaplain of said chapel, where I resided several years.

Thus far is ended the sufferings of John Gell in his youthful days-having by the powerful hand of Providence escaped many dangers by sea and land, and being a serious warning to all youths not to run headlong into any business or employment contrary to the advice of their friends, who are much more experienced in the affairs of the world than youth can be.

" Nemo omnibus horis sapit."

When in Donan, in France, we were prisoners in number 1400, and came out alive but 222, some of them dying suddenly with their meat in their hand.


1 This must have been the date when the Journal was written, at the time of his first appointment to St. Mark's, Malew.

2 The Rev. Samuel Gell, who was for many years Vicar of Lonan, was one of the translators of the Bible into Manx.

3 Rev. Philip Moore, afterwards Rector of Bride.

4 The person here alluded to was Mr. Peter Fannin, a master in the Royal Navy, who at that time resided in Douglas and taught navigation, etc. He published a map of the Island in 1789.

5 Mr. John Joseph Bacon was the father of the late Major Caesar Bacon of Seafield.

6 It may be well to explain that a Cartel was a ship employed in time of war to convey prisoners for exchange, and was looked upon as a neutral vessel, and as such was considered safe from molestation by all parties.

7 Hidlands is a very expressive term, commonly used by the Manx people, meaning, keeping out of sight, hiding; a debtor keeping out of the way of his creditor, or a criminal out of the way of an officer of justice, is said to be in hidlands.

8 The Mr. Leece here referred to was an ancestor of the present Deemster, Sir William Drinkwater. He was a Manksman, who made a great deal of money in business in Liverpool, and whose daughter married the Deemster's, grandfather.

9 The Rev. Thomas Quayle.

10 Bishop Mason was appointed in 1780, and died in 1783.

11 Bishop Crigan was consecrated February 20, 1784, so there appears some little discrepancy in these dates.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000