Chapter 9: The Rise of Methodism (1772-1827)

THE most important event during this period is the rise of Wesleyan Methodism in Man. The first direct effort to implant it was in 1758, when John Murlin, the weeping prophet, stayed about a week in Ramsey. He preached to the people, who "gave great attention," but, as he decided that there was "little probability of doing any considerable good while the whole island was a nest of smugglers,"[note 1] no preacher was sent to the island for some time afterwards.

The next arrival was John Crook, who was sent by a number of zealous Methodists in Liverpool early in 1775. He met with some opposition, but also with a good deal of sympathy, even among the clergy. He left the island in the autumn of the same year, when it was placed under the care of the preachers at Whitehaven, and [247] considered as forming part of that circuit. In the following year however he returned and carried on his work with some success, though there was considerable opposition, especially in Douglas, where he was attacked by a riotous mob set on by the minister of St. Matthew's. For protection, he applied to the governor, who took his part, and told the minister "that he would suffer no one to be persecuted for his religion."[note 2] After this, "though the storm was now fallen, the waves continued turbulent,"[note 3] and there were yet troublous times in store for the Manx Methodists. For, in July 1776, Bishop Richmond issued the following intolerant and violent pastoral letter to his clergy: "Whereas we have been informed that several unordained, unauthorized, and unqualified persons from other countries have for some time past presumed to preach and teach publickly, hold and maintain Conventicles, and have caused several weak persons to combine themselves together in a new Society, and have private meetings, assemblies, and Congregations contrary to the divine government, Rites, and Ceremonies of the Established. Church, and the civil and eccl. laws of this Isle – We do therefore, for the prevention of schism and the re-establishment of the uniformity in religious worship which so long hath subsisted among us, hereby desire and require each and every of you to be vigilant and use your utmost endeavours to dissuade your respective flocks from [248] following or being led and misguided by such incompetent teachers." He then spoke of "the crude, pragmatic, and inconsistent, if not profane and blasphemous, extempore effusions of these Pretenders to the true Religion;" he asked that the names of those attending meetings, who held "any place, office, or employment from us or our predecessors," should be sent to him; and he ordered the clergy, if any of the preachers should "at any time hereafter offer to be a partaker of the holy Communion in any of your respective churches or chapels, that you expel him or them so offering."

Fortunately but few of the clergy cared to carry out such instructions, in their entirety, though, according to Thomas Rutherford, one of the preachers, not one of them "dared to give us the sacrament." And he continued: "I have no doubt but that they would have driven us out of the island but for the Governor, who acted a most friendly part."[note 4] However, in spite of this opposition, they had already five hundred members, and "many of the poor people, both in the towns and throughout the country, received the truth, and much good was done."[note 5] In the following year, Wesley himself paid the island a visit, and "was received in a very friendly manner by a few persons of respectability and influence."[note 6] The people generally also received him well, and he was favourably impressed by them, writing, "A more loving, simple-hearted people than [249] this I never saw - and no wonder; for they have but six papists and no dissenters[note 7] on the island".[note 8]

At the Wesleyan Conference of 1778, the Isle of Man was entered as a separate circuit, and the preachers appointed to it were John Crook and Robert Dall. During the three years the former worked in the island, the membership of the society largely increased, being fifteen hundred and ninety-seven in 1781. In May of that year, Wesley again came to the island, and was very favourably received. The bishop, George Mason, was an easy-going Man, and did not interfere with the new preachers, whose work prospered. Wesley's impression of the people continued to be favourable, and he remarked in his diary- "Hardly in England (except perhaps at Bolton), have I found so plain, so earnest, so simple a people;" and again he speaks of "an artless, loving congregation."[note 9] He was also much pleased with their singing, saying— "I have not heard better singing either at Bristol or London; many, both men and women, have admirable voices, and they sing with good judgment."[note 10]

Of the preachers, who were now twenty-two in [250] number, Wesley said— "I never saw in England so many stout, well-looking preachers together. If their spirit be answerable to their look, I know not what can stand before them." And, after having visited the whole of the island, he declared that he "was thoroughly convinced that we have no such circuit as this either in England, Scotland, or Ireland."[note 11]

The Wesleyans continued to increase and prosper. In 1805, the island was constituted a separate district; and, in 1825, it was stated that the Methodists of that time, "unlike their predecessors, have little opposition to expect from those who are without." Indeed, after Bishop Richmond's time, the Church and the Methodists worked, on the whole, amicably together, and we have ample proof that this state of things continued much longer than in England. Thus, one of the Wesleyans wrote in 1822, "It was judged good policy to allow the Methodists in this Island to remain under the protecting wing of the Establishment until their minds were better prepared for a separation, and now they seem disposed to imitate their brethren in the mother country."[note 12]

We learn, however, that, in 1829, they had not yet seceded from the established Church," but that they "adhere . . . to its services."[note 13] Also that "in the country parishes, the Methodists attend generally more regularly than others on the public worship of [251] the Church," though "in the towns the line of demarcation is more strongly marked";[note 14] but, in 1836, the same writer remarked that they "now open their chapels during Divine service, a practice which many of them consider a great evil."[note 15]

As regards the Manx Church, the greater part of this period is a melancholy one; for the evil which tainted it during the latter part of Wilson's episcopate, and throughout that of Hildesley, viz. the gradual deterioration of the clergy, was now to develop its full consequences; and it did so unchecked, as the bishops between 1772 and 1813 — Richard Richmond (1773-80), a haughty and overbearing man, much disliked by his clergy;[note 16] George Mason (1780-3), and Claudius Crigan (1783-1813), whose part in the work of the Church was mainly a negative one — were not men fitted to grapple with it.

That this deterioration of the clergy was a fact is clear from the Records, which contain several convictions against them for drunkenness, and show that no less than seven of them were degraded from their office at one time.[note 17] The evidence of contemporary and other writers, however, shows them in a more favourable aspect on the whole. Thus, Feltham, writing in 1798, remarked that "the clergy of the island are a respectable body; they [252] are natives, and have a good classical education."[note 18] In 1816, we are told that among the clergy "there are few, if any, striking instances of dereliction from their duties, and that, generally speaking, the established habits of the whole body are consonant to the best rules of orthodoxy."[note 19] But it would seem that when Bishop Murray came[note 20] "things had fallen into a very scandalous state;"[note 21] and that he "found great irregularities practised in some of the churches, and a general carelessness pervading by far too large a proportion of the clergy."[note 22] He consequently "purified the ministry of several Priests, whose lives had been a scandal to their holy order."[note 23]

Of the religious condition of the people, we hear practically nothing, but it is clear that it would not be improved by contact with the class of immigrants into the towns from England and elsewhere, many of whom were of the most dissolute and irreligious character,[note 24] by the difficulties in enforcing the discipline, and by the ill-will engendered by the question of the tithe. But, on the other hand, the possession of the Bible in their native tongue, the religious enthusiasm produced by the mission of Wesley and his followers, and the sup- [253] pression of smuggling, with the consequent decrease of drunkenness, tended to counteract these evil influences, and to preserve some spiritual life among them.

Let us now briefly examine these influences. The immigrants need not be further discussed, so we come to the discipline. It had become very difficult even to get any disciplinary cases before the Spiritual Court, especially such as related to non-attendance at church and to immorality. Of this a singular proof was afforded in I785, when a number of churchwardens complained to the Ecclesiastical Court that they considered it a grievance to be "obliged to present on Common Fame, as also such persons as do not attend divine worship on holy days." In consequence of this, the court appointed a committee to "represent this to the Legislature, as soon as other matters of a similar nature are ready to be laid before them, for their consideration and amendment." The same point arose in 1796, when the bishop took "the sense of the clergy whether it might not be advisable to adopt another mode of punishing such offenders, by proposing to the Legislature to enact a law impowering the Bishop and Vicar-generals to commute their censures for a pecuniary fine." The clergy acquiesced, stating that they found "from sad experience that the censures of the Church have proved ineffectual to suppress the sins of adultery and fornication." No reference, however, seems to have been made to the Legislature, and ten years later the discipline was practically defunct.[note 25]

[254] Such presentments as we find between 1773 and 1800 were chiefly for the above-mentioned offences and for swearing, while some of them were for very insignificant misdeeds. Indeed, if contemporary writers are to be believed, the judges were frequently more in need of discipline than those who were brought before them. One of these writers, a military officer who lived in the island between 1789 and 1794, commented on the manner of the presentments as follows: "My pen revolts with transcribing such nonsensical stuff, such as must draw a smile from every person of common sense; an indignant one it must be, that within a Protestant country, in this enlightened age, such absurdities should be tolerated."[note 26] Occasional penances were performed as late as 1825, and, in the same year, Bishop Murray is said to have excommunicated an offender against the moral law; but, after that date, we hear no more of the discipline of the Manx Church.[note 27]

As regards the effect of the failure of the discipline, there may be a difference of opinion, but with reference to the bad effect of the method employed by the duke for the collection of the abbey tithes, and by the bishop for the collection of his tithes, there can be no doubt, as it had caused great dissatisfaction both among the clergy[note 28] and the farmers. [255] This method was, instead of letting them to the clergy of the respective parishes, as was the practice till Bishop Richmond came, to let them to the highest bidder at public auction. This individual then held sub-auctions to re-let the tithes, which, under this system, sold for much above their value. Thus, for instance, in 1750, the tithes of the parish of Braddan were let for £31 5s., and, in 1811, for £200, and the tithes of the parish of Jurby produced £20, in 1772, £138, in 1810, and £231, in 1811. This increase, however, before 1816 raised less opposition among the farmers than might have been expected, the period (1793-1815) having been one of considerable prosperity for them, as, stimulated by the great war, and by the large demand for agricultural produce on the part of the large number of strangers who lived on the island at this time, prices rose considerably. But, after 1816, this state of affairs rapidly changed, the demand fell off, and prices took a downward direction, so that there was much distress and discontent among the poorer farmers, which was aggravated in 1825 by Bishop Murray's attempt to collect the tithe of potatoes and other green crops, which had not been demanded for many years.[note 29] He also endeavoured, in concert with the duke, his uncle, to recover from the insular landlords a fixed sum of £6000 annually in lieu of all tithes. In the latter he altogether failed, but with regard to the former he obtained a judgment in his favour from the Privy Council. On proceeding, however, to collect this tithe, so much dissatisfaction and alarm [256] resulted, and tumults became so general throughout the island, that the bishop was forced to desist.[note 30]

Coming now to the other side of the question, the favourable influences, there can be no doubt but that the possession of the Manx Bible tended to preserve spiritual life among the Manx, and, if any proof of this were needed, it would be afforded by the remarkable number of religious carols[note 31] which date from this period. It was the custom to sing these carols in the parish churches, which were decorated with holly and ivy, on Christmas Eve,[note 32] and from house to house, both before and after the Christmas festival.

We must not, however, be led by the name carol, or carval, in Manx, to think that these Manx poems are merely religious songs or ballads in celebration of Christmas; indeed, out of about eighty which are known to exist, only six are immediately connected with the Nativity, and eleven more mention it, but merely as part of other subjects, such as the life and crucifixion of our Lord, and they in no way resemble the English Christmas carols. By far the greater number of them are rhapsodies which exhort the sinner to repent by picturing with terrible realism the agonies of hell. The punishment of the damned is contrasted with the reward of the saved, the former receiving much more attention than the latter. Many [257] of the carols, too, are taken from the Old Testament, and relate to such subjects as the Fall of Adam, and the lives of Jacob, Jonah, and David. These carols are for the most part imbued with a spirit of the sternest Calvinism - a spirit which was opposed not only to the teaching of Bishops Wilson and Hildesley, but to that of Wesley. It is hard to explain the reason of this. It may be that Puritan influence was strong in the island during the middle of the seventeenth century, a period of which we know, comparatively, very little, and that the descendants of the men thus influenced were excited to enthusiasm by having the Bible at last made accessible to them by being printed in their native tongue.

Of the success of Wesley in the same direction, there can be equally little doubt, as we have ample proof of it, not only from the records of the Wesleyans, but from the testimony of some of the clergy. One of them, for instance, wrote, "My church is well filled, and the monthly communions have increased from 70 to 130 and sometimes to 190 communicants, the congregation being as large upon Holy-days, as I have sometimes seen it on a Sunday evening," and "besides all this, my people (Methodists and all) now occasionally consult with me more than they did";[note 33] and, in 1842, Bishop Short recorded his belief "that the introduction of the Wesleyan Methodists, here as elsewhere, kept up a spirituality of religion, which would otherwise have been buried among us. I thank God for [258] the good done by them."[note 34] As to the influence produced by the suppression of smuggling in 1765, the Records conclusively prove that the proportion of cases for drunkenness brought before the Spiritual Court became, almost at once, much smaller.

In addition to these various influences, it may be reasonably conjectured that the stringent discipline under which both clergy and people had been kept during the episcopates of Wilson and Hildesley, had resulted in corresponding laxity[note 35] under less capable and earnest bishops. But in 1814, with the installation of Bishop Murray, the nephew of the Duke of Athole, after a year's vacancy of the see, the Church began to recover. The bishop at once commenced, as we have seen, to institute reforms, and with a man like Hugh Stowell, "the pious and eloquent Rector of Ballaugh,"[note 36] to assist him, it soon became evident that "the spirit of Bishop Wilson was not yet extinct."[note 27] It was due to Hugh Stowell that, twelve years before this, Sunday schools[note 38] were begun in the Isle of Man. "Having heard," he wrote, "of the established happy consequences attending Sunday schools in the neighbouring kingdoms,"[note 39] he started one in his own parish, that of Lonan. From Lonan, [259] the schools soon spread to the other parishes, and were also eagerly adopted by the Wesleyans.

Another improvement was the raising, in 1813, the fees of the parish school-masters, which were still on the miserably inadequate scale fixed in 1704, to "two shillings and elevenpence a quarter for each and every scholar taught to read English, and three shillings and sixpence a quarter for each and every scholar taught to read and write,"[note 40] by Act of Tinwald. Good work was also done in Man by branches of the British and Foreign Bible Society, established there in 1814, and of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, established there in 1818. The only important addition to the insular schools at this time was that of the large school in Douglas, under the Lancasterian[note 41] system, built in 1811.

This period was not, as may be supposed, one of much church building or restoration, though the rapidly increasing towns of Douglas and Ramsey received attention, the former by the completion of St. George's in 1781, and the latter by that of St. Paul's in 1822. Besides these, Andreas church was rebuilt in 1800, and Jurby in 1813. In 1827, Bishop Murray, whose influence for good had been much vitiated by his action in the tithe question, was translated to Rochester, and, as the Dukes of Athole had sold all their rights to the English Crown, the Manx bishopric came under its patronage.


1. Rosser, Wesleyan Methodism in the Isle of Man, p.47, quoted from Murlin's own account.

2. Moore's Life of Wesley, quoted by Rosser, p.84, who is our chief authority for the progress of Wesleyanism in Man.

3. Ibid., p.85.

4. Rosser, p.89.

5. Ibid.

6. Wesley's Journal, quoted by Rosser, p.93.

7. We may note that the Wesleyans in Man did not really separate themselves from the Church till about 1836, some forty years later than in England (see p.251), and that the first actual organized body of dissenters, except a few Quakers, did not come into existence till 1808, when the Independents or Congregationalists built a chapel. By 1814, the Roman Catholics were numerous enough to have a chapel, and, in 1819, both Primitive Methodists and Presbyterians were in the same position.

8. Wesley's Journal, quoted by Rosser, p.94.

9. Ibid. p.98.

10. Ibid. p.99.

11. Ibid., p.99.

12. Haining, Guide to the Isle of Man, p.72.

13. Lord Teignmouth, vol.ii., pp.254-5.

14. Ibid., pp.245-5 and p.259.

15. Ibid., p.259.

16. In their letters he is usually spoken of as "the Lama " and "the Pontifex Max".

17. The negligent way in which the church registers were kept at this period is very marked.

18. Manx Soc., vol.vi p.89.

19. Bullock, p.333.

20. He was presented May 22, 1813, consecrated March 8, 1814, at Whitehall Chapel, and was installed on April 7, in St. George's, Douglas.

21. Short, History of the Church of England, Introduction, p.lxiv.

22. Ward, p.60.

23. Ibid.

24. Most of this class, however, were got rid of after 1814, by the passage of the Act making foreign debts recoverable in Man.

25. We may note that the chapter-quests, whose special duty it was to make presentments, disappear at this period.

26. Townley's Journal, vol.ii p.47.

27. "As late, however, as l847 churchwardens occasionally notified moral offences committed in their parishes to their rector or vicar, who admonished the delinquents, but did not bring them before any court." (MS. note by Archdeacon Moore.)

28. Because they ceased to act as proctors, and consequently lost their fees.

29. See p.221.

30. The settlement of this question comes within our next period.

31. See Manx Carols, published by John C. Fargher, Douglas.

32. So devoted were the people to this service, that we find cases of the churchwardens presenting their parson for neglecting to have it (see p.236, note 3).

33. Henry Corlett, Vicar of German, MS. letter dated 1783.

34. Convocation Address, 1842. Pamphlet.

35. As, in England, the austerities of the Commonwealth were followed by the excesses of the Restoration.

36. Ward, p.60.

37. Ibid.

38. Bishops Wilson and Hildesley insisted on children attending church to be catechized, but there would not seem to have been any regular system of Sunday schools in Man before 1802.

39. MS. diary.

40. Statutes, p.363.

41. I.e. religious but non-sectarian instruction.