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Ambrose Qualtrough

Epithet: Radical MHK (1869-1936)

Record type: Biographies

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

When Tynwald marked the death of Ambrose Qualtrough, Lieutenant Governor Sir Montague Butler described him as:

... a man of strong emotions, who spoke out bluntly what he thought - sometimes, perhaps, without much regard for the feelings of others. At the same time I always felt, and I think the Court always felt, that there was no malice in what he said, and that he had a very human heart, and was essentially a man of kind and friendly disposition, and I know we are all sorry that he should have been taken from us. He was one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of this Court, having joined the House of Keys in 1907, and with a short interval, having been in the Court ever since. Undoubtedly we shall feel the poorer now he has gone.

It is interesting to contrast Qualtrough's relationship with a previous Lieutenant Governor, Lord Raglan, particularly when Qualtrough placed the following resolution on the agenda of the House:

'That in the opinion of this House and in view of the present feeling in the Island concerning Lord Raglan and his government on the Island, it would be in the interests of the Island and for the good government of the same, that he should resign forthwith, and that an expression of opinion to that effect be forwarded to the Home Secretary by the Speaker of this House.'

Ambrose Qualtrough was a native of Port St Mary, but carried on business in Port Erin as a butcher. From the records of Port St Mary lifeboat we discover that he was a member of that crew, and was actually on the first official service of the station on 21st October 1899.

He took an interest in Manx politics for many years. As a member of Port Erin Commissioners he gained a reputation for fearlessness and independence, and he was elected to the House of Keys at a by-election in May 1907, to fill the vacancy in Rushen caused by the death of William Quine.

Richard Kneen, a contemporary and fellow Member of the House of Keys, speaking in the Keys after Qualtrough's death in 1936, said:

I want to say I knew Ambrose Qualtrough all my lifetime. I have lived in the same village, I went to the same Sunday-school, and I have been influenced by the same people. I know that he was loved and respected by the people of Rushen, and it was because of that love and trust that he was returned so many times to represent them in this House.

When Ambrose Qualtrough stood for the Keys, he spoke out against the landlord system in the Isle of Man. He considered that landlords had all the official positions. He opposed the sugar tax and thought something should be done to encourage the fishing and mining industries. He also advocated the levying of death duties and income tax. He would favour anything that would increase the travelling facilities of the visitors, such as running the railway alongside the pier at Douglas. He strongly favoured the Ballot Act, believed that farm servants should be free from 1pm on Saturdays, that old-age pensions should be introduced, and that the Keys should be paid for their services. He believed the House of Keys should have control of all financial matters. This manifesto was popular, and after his election he was carried shoulder-high to the market place in Castletown.

It was his lifelong support of these policies which brought him into conflict with Lord Raglan. His frustration at Raglan's policies caused him much heart-searching, and for a patriot like him to move a motion in the Keys that the Island should be 'annexed' to Lancashire for the purpose of government must have been anathema. But he considered it the only way that his constituents could gain parity with their counterparts in the United Kingdom. He had complained of Lord Raglan's unauthorised expenditure of thousands of pounds on volunteers, and at Raglan's unbending opposition to providing pensions, health insurance and other social rights enjoyed by the English.

From his deep love for the Island sprang a strong desire to see a more full and more real autonomy than was possessed at that time. In the words of (later Sir) Joseph Davidson Qualtrough, speaking at the time of Ambrose Qualtrough's death:

I think that sometimes his attitude to those in authority in the Isle of Man may have been misunderstood. He sometimes came into contact with that authority, and I am bound to say that on one occasion at least he was treated with something less than the fairness which we are accustomed to look for. His attitude was not so much one of opposition to authority as the outcome of an intense desire to see the government of the Isle of Man, in the hands of the executive, responsible to the people of the Isle of Man. He was a genuine Home Ruler in the very fullest sense. He recognised the limitations of our present Home Rule and he laboured consistently for nearly 40 years in order to bring about a larger and fuller degree of self-government under which alone, in his opinion, the real aspirations and dignities of the Manx people could be safeguarded.

The one occasion referred to was in 1915 when Qualtrough was prosecuted by Raglan under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act. He was imprisoned for refusing to pay a £10 fine imposed for 'spreading a false and alarming report'. He was alleged to have spread a rumour in the south of the Island that 4000 aliens had escaped in Douglas and were looting shops. Qualtrough served twelve days in prison in spite of a public petition to the Governor for his release; when he returned to Port Erin he was cheered by a large crowd of constituents.

Certainly when Qualtrough later quoted to the House of Keys an article contributed to Reynolds News by Spencer Leigh Hughes MP, he did not endear himself to the Executive. This article, entitled 'The Funniest Second Chamber on Earth', succinctly expressed Qualtrough's views:
The Kaiser is a very long way behind Lord Raglan so far as personal and unfettered power is concerned. He is also backed up by somebody known as the Attorney-General. It seems that the Isle of Man is blessed with a Second Chamber, and I need not add that it backs up the quaint Governor and the comic Attorney-General. It is a body consisting entirely of paid officials. Really the Isle of Man Second Chamber is the funniest thing of the sort there is in the world. There are eight officials, nominated for life - six nominated by the Crown and two by the Bishop - and three are a quorum. Again, the Governor must choose his executive - if he happens to want an executive, which is quite optional - from these nominated eight, and two of these people may constitute the whole executive.

Sir W. Gilbert missed a chance by over-looking, the magnificent tomfoolery of this Manx Constitution. First we have the august and illustrious Raglan, who can forbid the elected House from discussing any subject, or can jump on their decisions afterwards. In the second place, if he wants any companions to join him in his lordly fun, he can make an executive out of a couple known, I suppose as 'one chap' and 'the other chap', and then the three can have the time of their lives.

Just four months before his death, aged 66, Ambrose Qualtrough showed that he had lost none of his fiery spirit. The Press reported that there were 'Fisticuffs in the Keys' when on 14th January two members, Walter Clucas Craine and A. Qualtrough, '...pummelled away at each other with their fists and there was actual bloodshed before Detective-Sergeant Kneen intervened and pulled them apart.'

Qualtrough used two expressions which his contemporaries considered very largely summed up the man himself. His one quesion was 'How is the gorse looking this year?' and then, after some talk, he would speak some lines often quoted by him on political occasions in Rushen: 'Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, "This is my own, my native land"?'

Biography written by John Qualtrough.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.372-4.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 5 September 1869

Date of death: 10 May 1936

Name Variant: Qualtrough, Ambrose, Mr


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