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Sir William Leece Drinkwater

Title: Sir

Epithet: Lawyer, 50 years a deemster (1812-1909)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

William Leece Drinkwater, who was to serve for over half a century as a Deemster in the Isle of Man, came from a wealthy family of Liverpool merchants, one branch of which would play an important part in Manx life for over 160 years.

William's uncle Sir George Drinkwater was a prominent member of the East India Company, andknighted by George IV. In 1840 he bought the Kirby estate at Braddan from Lady Laura Buchan. He also purchased Port-e-Chee and the Calf of Man, and looked after other property interests for his mother Elinor Leece Drinkwater, whose family were originally from the Island.

Sir George, 'a most kind uncle', died on 11th April 1850, leaving his Manx estates to his younger brother John's son William. William had already spent a good deal of time in the Island; at thirteen he had dined at Castle Rushen with Governor Smelt, and a year or two later he endured a 26-hour crossing from the Island to the mouth of the Mersey. The lights of Liverpool were sighted, but the vessel was driven all the way back to Ramsey by the gale and went aground just in time to escape foundering.

Despite such memories William, already engrossed in the legal profession (he had been asked to represent Chester in parliament, but declined), decided at 36 to make his life in the Isle of Man. It would be very different from anything he might have experienced had he stayed in England. In 1848 he noted, 'How quietly all seems to go on here while the thrones of Europe are tottering - legislation and dispensing justice on the small scale called for in this Island give just enough anxiety to prevent life becoming wearisome "from its sameness of splendour"'.

William succeeded John Joseph Heywood as Second Deemster in 1847 and as First Deemster in 1855. Until 1897, as an obituarist noted in 1909:

"... he was the busiest judge in the Isle of Man which, perhaps, is not saying a great deal but, by common consent he was the most cool-headed and impartial. His quiet gentlemanly little figure, small and lithe and firmly knit; his earnest blue eye and amiable smile, all gave the impression of one of Nature's gentlemen. Passion or prejudice had no part in his disposition; his temper was sunny and equable, and doubtless to this cause is due his phenomenally long and healthy life."

As a judge, William Leece Drinkwater would be praised for his knowledge of Manx law and his logical, clear and well-poised sentencing, even if:

"... as a criminal judge his fault leaned to virtue's side; his sentences were notoriously merciful on all classes of offenders. His voice trembled with emotion when pronouncing a sentence of ten years on a culprit who would certainly have been hanged had his crime been committed in England."

As a member of Legislative Council he was interested in such practicalities as the improvement of harbours and roads. He was also chairman of the Lunatic Asylum Committee which oversaw the building of a purpose-built mental hospital at The Strang; well ahead of his time, he queried 'What would be the feelings and wishes of the poor lunatics themselves?'

He was knighted in 1877 on the recommendation of Governor Sir Henry Brougham Loch.

A devoted Churchman and loyalist, William Leece Drinkwater entertained all the young people of Braddan parish at Kirby on Queen Victoria's Golden and Diamond Jubilees, and at the coronation of Edward VII. With a keen interest in agriculture, he also put the grounds of his home at the disposal of the Manx Agricultural Society for their annual show.

He was most happily remembered for his sporting prowess. At Cambridge he once walked 40 miles in eight and a half hours. He rode well into his 80s, and in 1892, aged 80, was reported as having sustained a fall whilst skating at Belle Vue Park. In the great frost of 1895 he opened Kirby Park to the public for skating on the river.

On his retirement in 1897 he was presented with a ceramic casket, which is still at Kirby. This was decorated by the artist John Miller Nicholson with views of the Tynwald ceremony, of Kirby itself and of Castle Rushen and Peel.

Biography written by Valerie Cottle and J. Stowell Kenyon.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.163-4.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 28 March 1812

Date of death: 22 May 1909

Name Variant: Drinkwater, W.L.


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As the great great Granddaughter of Sir Willian Leece Drinkwater I have much interest in the Island’s history and peoples. - Winifred McMinn Report this

As the great great Granddaughter of Sir Willian Leece Drinkwater I have much interest in the Island’s history and peoples. - Winifred McMinn Report this