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Sarah Murray

Epithet: Artist

Record type: Biographies

Biography: Sarah Hay-Drummond, was the daughter of the Robert Hay-Drummond 10th Earl of Kinnoul and his wife Sarah Harley. She married Reverend George Murray on 5 May 1811. They moved to the Isle of Man in 1813 when he was consecrated Bishop of Sodor and Man, by the appointment of his Uncle John Murray, the 4th Duke of Atholl, who owned the Isle of Man.

They lived at Bishopscourt with their family, before being forced to flee the Isle of Man in 1825 as a result of the potato tithe riots.

The following Statement was drawn up by Lady Sarah Murray on the subject of the riots in the Isle of Man in 1825, which were the cause of the Bishop, with herself and their family, being obliged to leave the island.

Castle Mona, 1825.

My mind being now more at ease, I sit down to give you a more detailed account of all that has passed here than I have hitherto been able to send you, as I think the Bishop's friends in England should be so far informed upon the subject as to enable them to refute any blame which false and malicious reports may attach to him, and be aware of the peculiar difficulties he has had to contend with.

Soon after the appointment of the present Lieutenant Governor some misunderstanding took place between him and the Duke of Atholl; and he has from that time always suffered private pique to induce him to support a party in the Island, who for generations back have united to insult, belie, deceive, and cheat the Dukes of Atholl and their agents. It is said that the injurer never forgives; and as the ancestors of most of these persons obtained their property by smuggling, unfair leases, &c., they are naturally jealous of presence of anyone who is aware of the past, and inclined to check the repetition of such practices. Of late years, in all the Duke's disputes with the House of Keys as to the rights they claimed, the Lieutenant-Governor has always supported them against the Duke. They are a self-elected body, and the members, twenty-four in number, are for the most part a low, ignorant set, devoid of all principle, religious or political, ten of them of one family, and their leader an avowed Atheist. The Bishop has ever lived on apparent good terms with the Lieutenant-Governor, and shown himself and his family many acts of private friendship; but he, in return, has always shown that he only supported the Bishop as far as the letter of the law obliged him, and so as to avoid the observation of higher powers. Almost all the subordinate situations are filled by persons so ignorant, and so connected with the people, that they want both the knowledge and the inclination to perform their duty. I may safely say that every one not a Manxman is the Bishop's friend, and all such are indignant to a degree at the treatment he has received.

With respect to the tithes, that for green crops had been many years ago claimed by Bishop Wilson, who gave an order for the collection of the same. Nine years ago the present Bishop revived the same claim, seeing that the cultivation of potatoes in particular was become so very extensive, that the Clergy would otherwise lose a great portion of their income, which, under the cultivation formerly pursued, they derived from the tithe of other crops. He fixed upon two persons of large property whom he considered well able to bear the expense of a law suit, which, after being decided in his favour in all the Courts in the Island, was finally decided, after nine years' delay, by the King's Order in Council for the payment of the tithe of all kinds of green crops. This Order was published in the newspapers in August last, and each person from whom the tithe was intended to be taken were served individually with notices to that effect, it being at the same time given out by the Duke's and the Bishop's agents that they intended to take the tithe only from those who had more than an acre of potatoes. This could not, of course, include the poor.

Notwithstanding these precautions, within a few days after the notices were served, combinations were entered into in the different parishes, and meetings held, under the sanction of the Magistrates, to sign a bond binding all the subscribers, under a penalty of £20, not to take or agree for any kind of tithe for two years; declaring that all those who refused to sign should, if landholders, be cut off from all communication from their neighbours; if tenants, should be turned out in November; if labourers or poor, should have neither employment nor parish relief; and in some instances threatening with burning and destruction all those who should dare to agree for their own tithe without interfering with that of others.

These meetings were held by the Captains of Parishes, whose office it is as Magistrates to keep the peace. The Bishop desired the Deputy Attorney-General of the Island to prosecute three of these persons—two of them are members of the Keys. One of them in Court denied all knowledge of the bond, though it was proved by twelve persons that he carried it to the meeting in his pocket, and there read it in Manx and English to the people, signed himself, and then called upon them to do the same. For this barefaced falsehood and open defiance of the Kings Order in Council so lately given, the Lt.-Governor thought fit only to reprimand the said Magistrates, and even that reprimand was never made public. They went home claiming a victory over the Bishop, held meetings again the next day, and proceeded in several instances to act according to the declarations in the bond.

From that time the abuse of and threats against the Bishop and his agents became every day more violent, the language in the public houses was dreadful to a degree, and an infamous paper came out weekly teeming with lies and scandalous inventions, tending to excite the people against the Bishop and against all those who espoused his cause. This all passed unobserved by the Lt.-Governor, who had never any communication with the Bishop upon the subject, nor did he ever express to him any fear that he had not a sufficient force to repress a riot if it should occur.

Finding that scarce any persons would agree for their tithes, the Bishop so well arranged his plans that he could have drawn almost the whole in kind. On the 26th of October Mr. MacCrone, the Duke's and the Bishop's agent, sent his confidential clerk (a man of a particularly mild, quiet character) to Rushen Parish to collect the Duke's potato tithe. He went on his arrival to the Magistrate to claim his protection, and to state to him that his (the Magistrate's) servants had insulted and pelted him. He said he would "attend to it the next morning." The same thing occurred the next day, but the Magistrate was from home. At night an outhouse in which a few potatoes had been lodged was broken open, the potatoes carried away, the carts broken to pieces, the horses driven into the sea, and the clerk, who went to the Magistrate for aid, was told he was out, and on returning was knocked down by five men, dreadfully beat, and left senseless on the ground. The same sort of outrage and the same treatment was repeated to two other persons who were sent to the same parish, the last of whom was accompanied by two constables, and who has since been lying dangerously ill in consequence of the wounds he received. This disturbance occurred each time in the immediate neighbourhood of the Magistrate's own house, and though we have proof that he knew what was passing, he never attempted to give any aid or took any measures to disperse the mob. He is a brewer and banker, has a large landed property, and by drinking debts and small mortgages has the whole of his neighbourhood so completely in his power, that it is well known that not a man dare stir against his will. He is the brother of the distinguished Judge Gawne, who for iniquitous practices in his Courts, and for shameful profligacy, was dismissed by Government. From peculiar circumstances the Bishop was obliged to take a part in bringing his conduct to light and we have good reason to believe that revenge for this dismissal has been the mainspring of all the disturbances in the Island, as we have positive proof that the mob looked up to his brother the Magistrate for directions how they were to proceed.

These occurrences happened on the 28th of October and 1st of November. Up to the 3rd the Lt.-Governor had taken no further steps than to send out two constables with warrants against twelve persons, two only of which were executed. On Thursday, the 3rd, the Bishop went to Castletown to attend a Court, and was there told that an immense mob was collected in the neighbouring parish of Rushen, and that they intended to send him a petition. He waited till six o'clock, but not receiving any further message, he returned to Douglas. At night the Coroner (or Sheriff) of the same Parish of Rushen came to him from the Lt.-Governor, and accompanied by the Chief Judge, to present to him a most insolent petition from the parishioners, demanding the relinquishment of the tithes and the pardon of the two prisoners. The Bishop told them they should have an answer the next morning at Castletown. He went there early the next day, but no sooner had he entered the town than an immense mob of 3,000 persons, armed with bludgeons, and the heads of pitchforks concealed under their coats, surrounded the Castle. The Lt. Governor ordered them to disperse or he would fire upon them; a few were going out of the town when they were met by Mr. Gawne, the above-mentioned Magistrate. He asked them " where the devil they were going," they answered, " Home, that the Governor had given them a slap in the face." " Go back again,' said Mr. Gawne, "your business is with the Bishop, not the Governor." They did so, and the mob became more clamorous than before. There was not a shop shut in the town, nor was there the least appearance of fear amongst the inhabitants. The Governor then told the Bishop that he could defend his person if he remained in the Castle, but that he had no means of dispersing the mob, and that he could not defend his family, his property, or the Country, unless he gave in to the demands they made. The Bishop, therefore, knowing himself to be separated from his family by the most disturbed districts, and that all those who had espoused his cause were exposed to all the fury of these lawless wretches, felt himself compelled, though in the Governor's Castle, to sign away the rights of the Church. He did this only for one year at that time, the people dispersed apparently satisfied, and he returned home. I never shall forget what I suffered during the three days of the Bishop's absence. I heard of all that had passed with the exaggerations which distance gives, and expected the mob every hour at Bishop's Court, had but three unarmed men in the house, yet dared not take any precautions that showed fear, lest that should bring them the sooner upon us.

It was Friday when the Bishop returned. That night we saw flames rising at a distance, which proved to be a farmhouse to which the mob had set fire. The Bishop had requested the Lt.-Governor to send him a guard of soldiers, but not till Saturday night at eight o'clock did they arrive. During all that day mobs were collecting in the different parishes, who were constantly kept drunk by barrels of ale placed at the different public houses (it remains to be proved by whom), and a regular plan was formed for them to meet by signals at six o'clock to attack Bishop's Court. Had they done so, God knows what might have happened, but providentially some less violent than the rest persuaded them to send a messenger before them to demand the relinquishment of the whole tithe forever. At the same time the Bishop received a letter from the High Bailiff of Peel, saying that he could not prevent the mob collected in his neighbourhood from coming on to Bishop's Court, unless he gave up the tithe forever. The Bishop signed a paper to that effect —what else could he do, defenceless as we were and hopeless of protection from those in authority ? It is to be observed that this High Bailiff now says that he was forced to send that letter, but during five weeks he has not taken any steps to bring to justice those who forced him. His partner (as an Attorney) went to the meeting before mentioned, to see the bond of combination properly executed.

The demands of the mob thus satisfied, our lives were saved, for though parts of the mob of another parish passed the house to join the rest, finding themselves unsupported, they returned. But though we escaped, before the Bishop had time to publish what he had done, others suffered. That day and the one preceding it two vicarage houses and nine others were burnt and destroyed, the poor inhabitants most inhumanly treated, and one man in particular, having fled to the mountains, was there hunted by dogs for three days and nights, and at last took refuge at Bishop's Court, almost dead from hunger and ill-usage. No tongue can tell what we suffered at this time; but no one lost their presence of mind, and all were busied in making what preparations we could for our defence. Our tenants, to a man, gave every aid in their power, though their wives and families were left un protected; stones were carried to the top of the house, the farm tools brought in, the doors and windows barricaded, and I believe, after the military arrived, we could have defended ourselves from any attack but that of fire. Six days we remained in this state, and it was at length thought best that we should venture moving to Castle Mona, the Duke of Atholl's house, near Douglas, and place ourselves under the protection of a Revenue cutter then lying in the bay. We moved there on the 9th, and only escaped being intercepted by a mob, assembled to waylay us, by taking unexpectedly a circuitous road. It was gratifying to find that as soon as it was known by which road we were coming, many Scotch and English gentlemen residents in Douglas came out to meet us and accompany us into the town. I must say that every person not Manx has shown us every attention in their power, and the kindness and friendship of four in particular I never can forget. The Duke's Agent here had been threatened also, but not quite so violently as our selves; and after repeated applications to the High Bailiff of Douglas, he obtained three soldiers to defend this Castle. Fortunately, the cutter arrived, and rendered their assistance unnecessary. There are fifty gentlemen, who are half:pay officers and especial constables, residing in Douglas and other parts of the Island, who have repeatedly offered their services, but have not been called upon.

Since we came here the Island has been comparatively quiet; but the Civil Power has been totally set aside, and the mob has been going from house to house, demanding money and ale wherever they chose.

In our move from Bishop's Court to Castle Mona, as mentioned above, we owed our safety to a fortunate forethought on my part, for early in the morning of that day, as I sat watching while the Bishop rested, it struck me that if the mob assembled in the narrow defile, through which we must pass, we should be at their mercy. I awoke the Bishop, and we agreed not to utter a word till all were in the carriages and carts, and then order the horses heads to be turned and take the mountain road instead of the usual one. It was a mercy we did so, for one hundred men were assembled in the defile, as I had anticipated.

The road was rough and hilly, but we got on well. The Bishop before us, on horseback, with a gentleman on each side, all armed. The carriages followed, I first, in a chariot with my mother. When we had got about half-way, I saw a cart come up to the Bishop with six armed men in it. This was indeed a moment of extreme terror. I thought they had come to seize the Bishop.They proved to be friends, the crew of a Revenue cutter, who had come to guard us to the town of Douglas.

Some strong measures must be adopted by the English Government to put down a combination certainly formidable, and to check a spirit which, if encouraged, here will spread elsewhere—for the mob does not consist of the poor, it is the landholders, the farmers, their tenants and labourers, who have united to resist all laws they do not think proper to obey. The Magistrates, and several members of the Legislature, are themselves the instigators of the outrages that have taken place, and almost all those in authority, if they have not aided, have at least done nothing to repress them. Mr. Peel, in reply to the Bishop's earnest request that a Commission might be sent to inquire into the real state of the Island, says that he hopes the military aid already sent will be sufficient to enable the Civil power to enforce the laws. But he must surely be deceived by false statements or misrepresentations of what has passed, or he would not trust the restoration of order to the hands of the very offenders. The Civil power is totally powerless, partly iniquitous, partly weak, timid, and so connected with the people, that they dare not and will not act.

A troop of Yeomanry, who receive from Government the usual pay and allowances, refused to come out on the day of the riots at Castletown, and the Saturday following, pretending to come to our relief at Bishop's Court, and meeting part of the mob at a little bridge over a stream a foot deep, instead of attempting to disperse them, they turned back to drink with them in a neighbouring public house.

An additional force of 110 soldiers arrived on the 15th of November. Up to the 25th no steps were taken to seize any of the offenders, though many of them were well known. A month had then elapsed since the beginning of the disturbances; end though eight of the incendiaries have since been taken by the military, it is probable that many of the offenders will escape, as no attempt has been made to seize them up to this time, the 9th of December. The eight persons already in custody are of the lowest class, but the Attorney-General is in England, where he always resides, and it is not likely his deputy will so prosecute as to bring proof home to the leaders of the conspiracy. It is scarcely possible to find a disinterested jury, and supposing one conscientious to be summoned, they would not dare return a proper verdict in the present state of the country, and therefore how the trials will be carried on it is difficult to say, but they take place this day, the 9th.

As to enforcing the tithe laws at the present time, it is impossible, for not a person could be found who would venture to expose himself to the public vengeance by attempting to enforce what every man in the Island has bound himself to resist.

It is evidently now the object with all here, to represent all that has passed as a mere small mob, a momentary ebullition of popular feeling not worth taking notice of; but there are two views only of the subject, and take it which way they will, I see not how they can defend their conduct. If it was as they say, a mere trifling disturbance, why were not the Civil power—eighty soldiers, a troop of Yeomanry, besides fifty half-pay officers who were both able and willing to enrol themselves—sufficient to repress it, to enforce the laws, and protect the Bishop and the rights of the Church. They must at least confess they were frightened at straws, and obliged the Bishop to sign away his rights and to fly from his home, because they knew not how to exercise the power they possessed. If, on the contrary, it was, as I believe it can be plainly proved, a regularly organised combination to deprive the Church of its rights, entered into by the higher orders of the people, who have instigated the lower orders to these lawless outrages, then surely such a shameful state of things, such perversion of all law and authority, can never pass unnoticed in a civilized country, and must bring upon itself the punishment it deserves.

An attempt is also made to throw the blame of all that has passed upon the exactions of the Bishop and his agents, and the poverty of the people but he is prepared to prove that the conduct of his agents will bear the strictest scrutiny, and that he has never received a twentieth instead of a tenth which is his rights. The produce of the Island amounts to £250,000 per annum, besides £30,000 from the fish, and the Bishop and twenty-five Clergy receive £4,700 from the tithes. The rights of the Church, therefore, are not likely to have been very rigorously demanded. The fish tithe has never been demanded by the present Bishop; that, together with many other of his rights which before his time had been regularly paid, the late Bishop was afraid to claim, and it seems he had too good reason for his fears.

As to the general poverty of the country, a judgment may best be formed by considering that this Island has never been subject to taxation or poor rates, and by observing the rapid increase which has taken place in the Revenue, in the exportation of corn, and in the importation of all licensed goods, which include all the luxuries of life.

If present poverty from any unusual circumstances had been the cause, why did not the relinquishment of the tithes for this year satisfy ? The mob did not consist of the poor; on the contrary, the only two places where real poverty exists are the only two that have remained quiet. The Bishop circulated notices saying that if any of the poor had, contrary to his directions, through any mistake paid tithe, that they might apply to himself personally for redress. No such application has ever been made, and, amidst all the general abuse, only three instances of alleged severity have been mentioned in particular, all of which proved, on enquiry, false.

A Scotch farmer, a respectable old man, whose farm was set on fire by the mob and entirely destroyed, who stands at £100 rent, and who at a very low estimation lays his damages at £250 has been desired by the Lt.-Governor to sign a petition, praying for permission to collect in the churches a sum to remunerate him for his loss of property. The country surely should be made answerable for the mischief that has been done; and I would rather the Bishop himself should repay him, than that he should submit to the insult of begging, as charity from the very persons who have ruined him, that which should be repaid him as a right.

The Lt.-Governor lately summoned a meeting of the Legislation to pass laws for the preservation of the public peace. It is to be hoped they will be better obeyed than those already in force. In his address to the Court he recommended the Keys to keep the peace, who are themselves the peace-breakers, and he complimented the Bishop on his generosity in giving up the tithe. It would, I think, have been more fitting the occasion had he deplored the total insubordination and shameful outrages which had compelled the Bishop to submit to an open and public robbery. He had that morning received a letter from the Bishop saying that he considered his relinquishment of the tithes in no other light, and that he therefore declined meeting the popular branch of the Legislature on the present occasion.

It is to be hoped that ere long some effectual measures will be adopted for the restoration of order and good government in the Island.

Unless this is the case we never can remain here It will be hard to be driven from our home, alter having been obliged to lay out so many thousands at Bishop's Court which was not habitable when we came to it; after twelve years almost constant residence, during which time, I may safely say, the Bishop has devoted his life to the unceasing endeavour to fulfil every duty of his situation, and to benefit the Island by every means in his power; yet if things are not placed on a very different footing, the Bishopric and its functions must take care of themselves, for we will not live in this Island to be again subject to the anxiety, the terror, and the insults we have endured for the last six months, or trust our lives, our friends, and our property any longer to the mercy of a lawless mob, and to the nominal protection of this insular Government, powerless and iniquitous as it is.


Occupation / profession: Artist

Gender: Female


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