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Reverend George Paton

Title: Reverend

Epithet: Clergyman, social reformer and friend of the poor (1836-1900)

Record type: Biographies

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

George Paton was born in Thurso, Caithness, on 11th October 1836. His father was formerly a lieutenant in the Cape Mounted Rifles, South Africa. His parents moved to the Island from Edinburgh in 1853 and built Ormly Hall, Ramsey. Their son attended Edinburgh Academy and studied law and medicine at Edinburgh University, where he also showed a keen interest in politics and was leader of the first Conservative Club in the city. While a student, he suffered a serious illness and when he recovered he decided that instead of pursuing a career in medicine he would take Holy Orders.

He studied with Dean Ingram and was ordained in 1864. His first appointment in the Island was to the curacy of St Olave's, Ramsey. This was not the church we know today, but a converted barn on the site now occupied by Ayre Ward of Ramsey Cottage Hospital. There was a schoolroom on the ground floor and a chapel on the first floor. The present church in Bowring Road was completed in 1870.

Six months after his appointment, Paton resigned because of a dispute with the church hierarchy. He was then offered the curacy of St Paul's by the Revd William Kermode, and accepted. On the transfer of Mr Kermode to Maughold, he was appointed chaplain of St Paul's in July 1871 and he held the post for the remainder of his life, in spite of many offers of valuable livings in England and Scotland. He was a distinctive figure, always seen about Ramsey wearing a cassock, surplice and biretta.

Paton possessed a strong personality, and although genial, kind and courteous, with a lovable nature, he was never afraid to express his views, no matter how unpopular. Shortly after his appointment to St Paul's he had a further dispute with Bishop Hill over pew rents. He strongly disagreed with this practice, believing that the church should be 'free and open'. He won the battle, but not without upsetting certain high-ranking members of his congregation including High Bailiff La Mothe and Clerk of the Rolls Sir Alured Dumbell. The row with Bishop Hill continued for many years.

He married into an old Manx family when he took Ellen Mylrea Farrant, fourth daughter of William Farrant of Ballamoar, Jurby, as his bride. The reception was held at Ballakillingan, Lezayre and the couple lived in the parsonage in Summerland, Ramsey. It was a happy marriage and his family was supportive of his work. In his early years he wrote a weekly leading article in the Manx Sun stressing the rights of the Manx people and waging his crusade to improve the quality of life for the poor.

At the time of his appointment, Ramsey was a small but busy fishing port. Many families were very poor and beggars roamed the streets. There was no promenade and just a few properties on the shoreline. Most of the houses had their backs to the bay and were lit by candles, while the quays and streets were illuminated by oil lamps. Sanitary arrangements were virtually non-existent, cesspools were a common sight, and disease often swept the town. The next ten years saw a great many changes. Gibson Sr Company commenced shipbuilding, the Gas Company lit up the town, the Water Company laid mains, telegraph communication was established with England, St Olave's Church was built, the Grammar School and Mysore Cottages were erected in Waterloo Road, and the Town Commission was formed.

Up to 1873 there had been no infant school in Ramsey. The Revd Paton undertook to supply the want and was the means of acquiring the Old Cross Hall, former home of the LaMothe family; this served as a National School for Infants for more than 20 years. It has been said that in the early days George Paton paid the salaries of the teachers out of his own pocket. He also established a place of shelter in Church Street for the deserving poor, with a soup kitchen behind it, was the founder of a free dinners for poor children scheme, where up to 9000 meals were provided each winter, and set up a Clothing Club. In these endeavours, he was supported by his family and the members of St Paul's.

The lack of hygiene in the town led to frequent outbreaks of typhus, smallpox and fever. George Paton cared for the sick and dying regardless of which, if any, church they belonged to and without care for his own safety. He would tend the dying and was seen on several occasions carrying bundles of infected bedding to the shore to burn. As a result of visiting the sick he contracted typhus in his first year as chaplain.

Around this time the Ramsey Central Relief Society was formed in a bid to end house-to-house begging, which was commonplace. On a Monday evening, regardless of the weather, but especially during the winter, crowds of poor people walked around the streets seeking food or money from shopkeepers and householders. A committee was formed headed by Messrs. Paton, Shimmin and Crennell, to try and resolve the problem, and for a number of years the voluntary system of providing aid to the poor worked well. It was eventually replaced by the system of poor relief controlled by the Poor Law Guardians, which continued until the welfare state came into being in 1948.

After the establishment of the Ramsey Commissioners in 1865, Paton worked closely with its members and officers to improve health care and conditions in the town. A believer in 'self help', he was a leading member of the Oddfellows and encouraged the young men of the town to belong to this or other Provident societies that would provide assistance in times of hardship.

He campaigned for the RNLI to grant Ramsey a lifeboat and his efforts were rewarded in November 1868-81 when the town's first lifeboat, The Two Sisters, was delivered. He was honorary secretary of Ramsey Lifeboat from 1868-1881 and then chairman for nineteen years until his death. J.C. Looney TC, writing an appreciation in the Ramsey Church Magazine said:

"For thirty two years his interest in this good work was unfailing, No weather could keep him indoors if the lifeboat was wanted, and when the rescued landed he was foremost in trying to minister to the needs of those, who were ready to perish."

George Paton devoted his life to the people of Ramsey without seeking any recognition for his work, and when he died suddenly on 13th January 1900 the whole town went into mourning. Ships in the harbour lowered their sails and flags to half mast and the shops put up their blinds. The funeral was the largest ever seen in Ramsey. Mourners from all walks of life followed the coffin to the small church of St Mary's, Ballure, where he was laid to rest.

The Ramsey Church Magazine reported:

"The bells of St Paul's tolled on Sunday morning and the whole town seemed to be overshadowed with gloom, the one topic spoken of by everybody being the death of 'the Parson'. The harbour was crowded with shipping, there being a large number of Duddon schooners [Irish Sea trading vessels built near Millom on the river Duddon in Cumberland] and other sailing vessels wind-bound in the harbour, besides several steamers, and from the large barque Cordillera which was flying the Norwegian flag down to the small fishing boats, one and all displayed their flags at half-mast, showing that one who was beloved by all who knew him had 'crossed the bar'. Flags were also half-mast on the Court House, the Swing Bridge, Harbour Office, Rocket Brigade and Lifeboat houses, Queen's Pier etc."

A stained glass window was erected in his memory at St Mary's, Ballure, by the Oddfellows.

For many years, George Paton cherished and promoted the idea of a small cottage hospital to serve the people of Ramsey and the north. He did not live to see his dream fulfilled; the laying of the foundation stone of Ramsey and District Cottage Hospital took place in June 1906 and the hospital opened the following year. Sixteen years after his death, on 1st September 1916, a bed was endowed in his memory. It was dedicated by Bishop James Denton-Thompson. John Kewley, later archdeacon, who had been a curate at St Paul's during part of Paton's chaplaincy, was also present and said: 'I do not know of any one more worthy of such a memorial, or any memorial more suited to one whose life was devoted to the relief of the sick and the suffering'.

This recognition, so long after his death, was a measure of the regard the people of Ramsey had for their beloved parson.

Biography written by Penny Harrison.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.364-6.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 11 October 1836

Date of death: 13 January 1900

Name Variant: Revd George Paton


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