[From JMM vol 2]

Rev. William Fitzsimmons, 1744 - 1819.


From a minature in oil Possession of Mr. Ewan Farrant, J.P.

William Fitzsimmons was the son of Christopher Fitzsimmons of the town of Douglas and Isabel Moore Kelly his wife. He was the youngest but one of a family of three sons and five daughters.

Both his brothers died at an early age, and two of his sisters remained unmarried. Of the others, Sophia, Christian and Eleanor, the eldest married a Mr. Clark of Douglas. She was an accomplished needlewoman and in 1789 executed in silks an exact copy of Peter Fannin's map of the Isle of Man, recently for exhibition loaned to the Fine Arts Guild and at present in the possession of the writer.

Christian married, as his second wife, William Kelly of Algare, Baldwin, whose son (by the former marriage) Dr. John Kelly became Rector of Ardleigh, Essex, and the compiler of a triglot dictionary of the Gaelic, Erse and Manx languages.

Christian Kelly, half sister of Dr. Kelly, married Rev. Henry Bishop, who succeeded Dr. Kelly as Rector of Ardleigh. Their son, Henry Bishop, Rector of Great Clacton, Essex, married Isabella Curphey, eldest daughter of William Farrant and Susannah Eleanora, his wife, of Ballamoar and Ballakillingan.

Eleanor Fitzsimmons married John Quillin+ of Stornoway and the Faroe Isles, and their daughter Isabella married Edward Curphey of Ballakillingan, whose only child Susannah Eleanora - the last of the Curpheys of Ballakillingan - married William Farrant of Ballamoar, mentioned above. [fpc - Isabella, according to A.W. Moore, was daughter of John Quillin, Attorney General (1733-1768) - suspect confusion between him and John Quillin cooper as no children of John Quillin found]

William, the subject of this article, was born in 1744, and was educated under the Rev. Philip Moore, a fellow pupil with Dr. Kelly. In a letter to Dr. Kelly's wife upon her marriage in 1784, he writes: 'Mr. Kelly and I were chums while we were but chickens, we bore the rigors and evils of school together, we robbed birds' nests, we plundered orchards together, in short we shared together the gambols of playful infancy, the hardier sports of youth, and we have ever since been friends.'

Fitzsimmons was naturally studious and of precocious ability. In 1763, when only 19 years old, he was licensed by Bishop Hildesley to the Mastership of the 'Latin and English School at Peeltown.' In 1769 he was ordained Priest, and appointed Curate of Malew.

In 1771 he removed to Ayr, Scotland, as Episcopalian clergyman, and later was appointed to the Episcopal Chapel in Edinburgh, where he also became private Chaplain to the Countess of Errol and tutor to her sons.

In 1799 he became involved in political trouble, and was tried by the High Court of Justiciary (the highest Criminal Court in Scotland) on a charge of having aided the escape of four French prisoners from Edinburgh Castle.

On a Sunday night in March, 1799, two French prisoners made their escape from the Castle, as alleged at the trial by sawing through iron bars with a sword blade conveyed to them by a clerk in Edinburgh. More probably they were confined in the Castle dungeons, hewn out of solid rock, where numbers of these unfortunates were immured and have left writings and carvings on the walls of the prison. They came to Mr. Fitzsimmons' house at 10-30 p.m. and asking to see him, were admitted by a maid servant.

Mr. Fitzsimmons' nephew, John Quillin, who was staying with him at the time, gave evidence at the trial that his uncle did not expect them and did not know one from the other, also that they were put to sleep in his bed, and that he slept with his uncle; that the prisoners were poorly clad and very dirty, and that one of them cried like a child.

R. L. Stevenson in his story " St. Ives" (which is supposed to have been founded upon this incident) gives an account of the escape of French prisoners from the Castle, and describes how the prisoners of that date were dressed in sulphur-coloured garments so that they might easily be recognised.

The next evening two other prisoners, who were on parole and permitted to leave the Castle, arrived and remained all night sleeping upon a shakedown. They remained four days and nights at Mr. Fitzsimmons' house, keeping strictly within doors, but the reverend gentleman dined out on three of the evenings. On the fifth day the prisoners, accompanied by Mr. Fitzsimmons, left the house at 4 a.m. and proceeded to Newhaven, a fishing port near Leith, and were rowed to the Island of Inch Keith in the Firth of Forth, where the prisoners remained hidden until taken on board a 'cartel ship.'

It was not until the 'cartel' returned to Leith some weeks later, when one of the fishermen mentioned the matter, that investigations were ordered and Mr. Fitzsimmons arrested. He pleaded 'not guilty' to the charge, asserting that he had acted solely from motives of humanity. He was defended by the Hon. Henry Erskine, one of the most famous advocates in Scotland, who in the course of his speech said: 'Whoever may hear of this trial will only hear that the unhappy man at the bar stands accused of the virtue of humanity and the error of rashness.' Sir John Whiteford, an intimate friend of twenty years standing, gave evidence on his behalf, as also did General Napier, who said that it was at Sir John Whiteford's table he first heard Mr. Fitzsimmons tell of the affair and that he appeared to regard it as an act of common humanity.

The Lord Advocate wound up his speech for the prosecution with the highest eulogies on the prisoner's character. The jury found him guilty, but recommended that the punishment should be as lenient as the law would allow, and he was sentenced to three months' imprisonment in the Canongate Tolbooth.

Upon his release he resigned his charge in Edinburgh, being succeeded by the Rev. Archibald Alison, Prebendary of Salisbury and father of the historian.

He returned to the Isle of Man and purchased Glen Roy in the Parish of Lonan, where he busied himself with afforestation.

In 1807 he writes to his niece, Mrs. Bishop

'I am planting, busy planting, and endeavouring to civilize a race of savages, the Spaniards of Kirk Lonan, but they are incorrigible devils, for it would require a whole life of man with Castle Rushen at his door to effect even a partial reformation, yet the dogs pretend to be Methodists - they may be good Methodists, but I am sure they are inveterate rogues.'

He also wrote, though it was never published, a history of the Isle of Man, the manuscript of which is preserved in the Library of the Manx Museum. He translated the Minor Prophets into Manx, and was anxious that the Prayer Book translation should be revised. In a letter he says, the liturgy has undergone no revision -- some of the Clergy said it was good - others said not - but all were too lazy, " no penny, no paternoster!" To say the truth, I cannot take it into my hand without being offended.'

He had been tutor to John Christian, afterwards Deemster (the eldest son of John Christian, who changed his name to 'Curwen' after his second marriage to Isabel Curwen of Workington). He remained Mr. Christian's confidant and adviser, acting as his agent in the Island, as at that time the Christians resided at Unerigg in Cumberland, and Milntown was tenanted by Mr. Fitzsimmons' brother-in-law, John Quillin.

Though a clergyman he became a member of the House of Keys, and associated himself with the Christians and the Taubmans in resisting the claims of the Duke of Athol, and sat in the House from 1813 until shortly before his death. He never married. He died at Glen Roy in April, 1819, at the age of 75 and was buried in Lonan Churchyard.

It is singular that no record of the career of this remarkable man, respected both in Scotland and his native land for his strength of character and scholarly attainments, is to be found in the pages of A. W. Moore's 'Manx Worthies.'

+G.V.C Young in 'The Isle of Man and the Faroe Islands' (Peel: Mansk Svenska [1982] states that when, in 1768, Rybergs Handel obtained a twenty year licence to carry on an import/export business in the Faroes, he engaged John Quillin, a master cooper, to ensure that barrels of rum imported from the West Indies were recaulked and topped up prior to onward movement. John Quillin and wife Eleanora moved to the Faroese capital Torshaven, where Eleanora died 1788 and is buried; John Quillin remained there until 1795 before moving to Denmark where he died in 1820. The import/export trade was the equivalent of the Manx 'running' trade and post 1765 the Faroese took much of it over from the Manx, until the Napoleonic wars, in which England and Denmark were on opposing sides brought it to an end.

A relative wrote to say that Quillin was actually a leader of the export-buisness and was educated as ships captain; his papers are in Copennhagen Stadsarkiv which give his ships and where had sailed (Java, India). In Denmark he had to document his English education as captain thus leaving a record - upto his arrival there was little industry in the Faroes. One of his sons stayed in Torshavn and before selling his house to Jacob Nolsøe (Faroe Archives). He also supplied the following information about the children of the marriage:

Eleanora bur 3 Oct 1788 Torshavn (gravestone in Torshavn) - Children include:
Robert bp 11 Apr 1764 (Douglas St Matthews) - sold his house in Torshan in 1798 to Jacob Nolsø
Michael John bp 11 Dec 1765 (Douglas) - Chief Officer The Fregat "Fortuna" Denmark- West Indies 1787; Cop.- Tranquebar-Ostindie 1788, Civic Virtue Copenhagen 7/12 1799 ( He wrote that he was born on Faroe Islands" Sailed many Years); in 1802 living at Kgs. Nytorv Cph.; from 1803 to 1805 with Admiral Chapman as captain to Ostindia; d 1811 Copenhagen
Isabel bp 11 Oct 1767 (Douglas) - m Edward Curphey (Lezayre)
Cathrine Christine Marie bp 17 Oct 1769 Torshavn
Annika Hedevig bp 12 Feb 1771 Torshavn;m 1811 Copenhagen m Heinrich Jensen Groot. No Children;d 1830 Copenhagen
Eleonora bp18 Jan 1773,Torshavn; Married in Stornoway (Western Isles) and lived there
Niels bp 4 Nov. 1774 Torshavn
Elisabeth Elinor bp 3 Jul 1776 Torshavn
Marie Fredericha bp 22 Jan 1778 Torshavn; married William Killey Sep 1800. Lived in Castletown. 3 Daughters.
Maria Elisabeth bp 1 Jan 1780, Torshavn
Johannes (John) bp 16 Jan 1781.Became a medical docto,r lived in Edinburgh 1799. Continued business with Groot from Isle of Man.
Wlliam bp 20 Jan 1782 d Jan 1782 and buried in the church

Christopher Fitzsimmons would appear to be the son of Richard Fitzsimmons & Christian Quine - Richard was possibly the son of Christopher & Ellin Fitzsimmons whose relatives were Irish.



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2003