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The papers of the Dukes of Atholl relating to their administration of the Isle of Man

Date(s): 1630-1847

Creator(s): Various

Scope & Content: The papers document the Dukes and Duchess of Atholl’s complex relationship with the Isle of Man, initially as the Lords of Mann from 1736 to the Revestment in 1765, and then as manorial lords from 1765 until 1828, along with the 4th Duke of Atholl’s governorship between 1793 and 1830. While the family’s connection to the island came to an end in 1830 with the death of the 4th Duke, there are papers that go beyond that date, relating to the disposal of funds arising from the sale of the Atholls’ Manx manorial rights and their ecclesiastical patronage over the Bishopric of Sodor and Man, in 1828.

The material splits into four main sections: the papers of the 2nd Duke; the papers of the 3rd Duke (and Duchess); the papers of the 4th Duke; and finally, a small amount of items from the 5th and 6th Dukes’ eras. The papers of the 2nd to 4th Dukes largely comprise of incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing letters. However, the correspondence is supplemented by a wide array of other material, including: Acts and Bills of Parliament and Tynwald, annual accounts and other financial records, both fiscal and manorial; assorted printed material and the occasional newspaper, commissions for various civil and manorial offices, legal deeds, memorials and petitions, minutes, prisoner lists for Castle Rushen’s gaol (4th Duke only), and reports and other similar documents.

Two main topics appear throughout the Atholl Papers. Firstly, the family’s claim to the Isle of Man and the rights attached to it, including the ecclesiastical patronage over the bishopric and mineral rights, and their attempts to ascertain and establish what (now manorial) rights they held on the island following the Revestment. And secondly, the governance of the isle and its people, including fiscal and legislative matters, and the raising of the Royal Manx Fencibles and other defence issues.

However, the material goes beyond just the family’s interests and top-level governance. The Atholl Papers are a rich treasure trove of information on various aspects of life on the Isle of Man during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. On the domestic front, there is information on demography, famines, health and immunisation matters, living conditions, and the naturalisation of ‘strangers.’ In regards to ecclesiastical matters, there is information on academic funds, the presentment of benefices, relations with Roman Catholics, and the state of Bishopscourt. Nautical matters are also present, including details concerning shipwrecks and the formation of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and information regarding the various mail packets that ran between the isle and parts of Britain. Manx trade and industries also feature heavily in the papers, containing information on the following: brewing and distilling, along with inn keeping; farming, herring and salmon fishing, along with curing; linen and other textile manufacturing, milling, mining and quarrying, papermaking, rope manufacturing, salt making, tobacco manufacturing, and matters concerning wines and spirits.

Connected to Manx trade, the 2nd Duke’s papers (and the 4th Duke’s records to a lesser extent) also contain material relating to the smuggling trade (or at least what the British and Irish authorities regarded as smuggling), conducted to and from the isle. Specifically, such papers focus on the conflict between Crown Customs officials and the Manx authorities over this matter.

There is also a wealth of information relating to wider socio-economic and political issues and trends, found in the rest of the British Isles and Europe, during the period covered in the Atholl Papers. Topics that appear include, but are not limited to: the Jacobite Rising of 1745, various European conflicts, and civil unrest arising from Corn Laws.

Administration / Biographical History: The lord proprietary rights over the Isle of Man had been held by the Stanley family (later the Earls of Derby) since 1405, when King Henry IV (1367-1413) granted these rights and the ecclesiastical patronage over the Bishopric of Sodor and Man to Sir John Stanley (c. 1350-1414) and his heirs. Their possession remained uninterrupted until 1595, when the lord proprietary rights were vested into the English Crown, due to an inheritance dispute that arose between the daughters of the late 5th Earl of Derby, Ferdinando (1559-1594), and the new 6th Earl, William (1561-1642). This dispute remained unresolved until 1609, when William purchased the rights to the island from Ferdinando’s daughters. An Act of Parliament was passed that year that vested the lord proprietary rights and the ecclesiastical patronage, along with the title of ‘Lord of Mann,’ into William and his heirs, specifically those of his eldest son, James (1607-1651), the future 7th Earl.

In 1736, the 10th Earl of Derby (1664-1736) died without any direct heirs, either male or female. Until 1732, the next in line to succeed as the Lord of Mann had been Lady Henrietta Ashburnham (1716-1732), who was the granddaughter of the 9th Earl (1655-1702) and the great-granddaughter of the 7th Earl. However, upon her death the 2nd Duke of Atholl, James Murray (1690-1764), became the next in line to succeed. He was the eldest unattainted heir of the 7th Earl, being the grandson of his daughter, Lady Amelia (1633-1702), who had married the 1st Marquess of Atholl (1631-1703). The Duke also became next in line to inherit the Barony of Strange, a title that had been held by Lady Henrietta, and subsequently passed to the 10th Earl upon her death.

Upon the death of the 10th Earl of Derby in February 1736, the 2nd Duke of Atholl petitioned King George II (1683-1860), seeking permission to pay homage to His Majesty as the ‘undoubted lord and proprietor’ of the Isle of Man, which the King accepted, and in doing so acknowledged the Duke as the new Lord of Mann. His Grace was officially proclaimed the new lord in June 1736, when he made his first visit to the island.

The Duke’s inheritance of the Isle of Man was disputed by Edward Stanley, the 11th Earl of Derby (1689-1776). The Earl issued a Bill of Complaint against His Grace in the English Court of Chancery in 1737, and also presented a petition to the King in 1738, both of which were rejected. The Earl renewed his efforts for the isle in 1748, as a counter claim to an on-going legal dispute between Lord Derby and the Manx clergy, over the latter’s claim for compensation concerning the Manx impropriate tithes. The 8th Earl of Derby (1628-1672) had sold the lease to these tithes to Bishop Isaac Barrow (1613-1680) in 1666, who used the money from these tithes to establish the Bishop Barrow Trust in 1668, which was designed to help with the upkeep and education of the isle’s poor clergy. As it was unclear whether the 8th Earl had the right to sell a long lease to the impropriate tithes, several of his estates in Lancashire were used as security as part of the agreement. The Duke would seize back the impropriate tithes upon his inheritance of the island, though he continued to pay out the tithes to the Barrow Trust until 1744, at which time he stopped and essentially forced the Manx clergy to press their claim against the current Lord Derby for compensation. In July 1751, the English Court of Chancery decreed that the Duke of Atholl was the rightful owner of the Isle of Man, and that the Earl of Derby was liable to pay damages to the Manx clergy for the loss of the tithes.

The 2nd Duke of Atholl was largely an absentee landlord, like most Lords of Mann that had preceded him, regarding the Isle of Man as little more than another source of income. Even though he visited the island on a few occasions, the day-to-day running of the isle was left to a number of Governors: James Murray, from 1736 to 1744, who was also the Receiver General of Scotland; Patrick Lindesay (1686–1753), from 1744 to 1751, who was previously the Provost of Edinburgh; Basil Cochrane, from 1751 to 1761, who would later become a Commissioner of the Scottish Customs; and John Wood, from 1761 to 1777. These Governors were supported by a number of Manx officials, including: John Quayle (1693-1755; referred to as ‘the Elder’ in the Atholl Papers), who held the positions of Comptroller and Clerk of the Rolls from c. 1737 to 1755; John Quayle (1725-1797; referred to as ‘the Younger’ in the Atholl Papers; father of George Quayle), who also held the offices of Comptroller and Clerk of the Rolls, following the death of his father; Deemster Daniel Mylrea (1684-1757; ‘the Elder’); and Daniel Mylrea (d. 1775; ‘the Younger’), who held various offices non-concurrently, including Attorney General, Receiver General and Deemster.

The 2nd Duke of Atholl died on 8th January 1764, at the age of 73. He was succeeded as the Lord of Mann by his only surviving child, Charlotte (1731-1805), who also inherited the Barony of Strange. She was married to her first cousin, John Murray (1729-1774), who became the 3rd Duke of Atholl and assumed her rights over the Isle of Man, though Charlotte was always technically the lord. Their short reign over the island would be defined by one event: the Revestment of 1765; when the Duke and Duchess were essentially forced to sell their lord proprietary rights and their control over the isle’s customs to the British Crown, as a consequence of the flourishing smuggling trade conducted to and from the island.

The Isle of Man had been a major entrepôt in the British Isles smuggling trade since the end of eighteenth century. A number of factors were key to the island’s rise in this trade, including advancements in sailing technology and the isle’s geographical location. However, the Lord of Mann’s unique rights and privileges were perhaps the defining reason for why the island played such a prominent role in the running trade. As the Lord Proprietor, the Lord of Mann had the right to establish a government on the isle and to run it autonomously, and their authority extended as far as nine miles from the island’s shores. As such, the royal writ did not extend to the isle or its waters, which in turn meant that the Commissioners of the Customs and their officers held no authority there. It also meant that the Lord of Mann and his Manx officials could disregard British laws and things such as the East India Company’s monopoly over the shipping of its goods to the British Isles.

Early attempts to combat the Manx smuggling trade were made with an Act of Tynwald in 1711, which banned the importation of goods from the Isle of Man to Great Britain unless under bond. However, this Act was repealed in 1713. In 1726, an Act of Parliament was passed that granted the British Treasury the authority to treat with the 10th Earl of Derby for the absolute purchase of the island and the rights that came attached. This Act also banned the importation of goods from Man to the rest of the British Isles, unless those goods had been grown, produced or manufactured on the isle. However, it appears that Lord Derby dodged any attempts made by the British Treasury to negotiate with him, and the matter went dormant until the 2nd Duke of Atholl became the Lord of Mann in 1736. The British Treasury made overtures towards the Duke in the late 1730s, 1752, 1754 and 1759 about a sale, but all attempts came to nothing.

With the death of the 2nd Duke in 1764, the British Treasury renewed their efforts with the 3rd Duke and Duchess, sending an initial letter in July of that year, asking the Duke to send them proposals to sell the Isle of Man, either in its entirety or just specific rights, such as control over the customs. However, unlike their negotiations with the 2nd Duke, the British now took a firm stance and on 17th August 1764 they issued the order that their ships would be stationed in Manx harbours and around the island’s coast. By infringing upon the Lord of Mann’s rights, it appears the British hoped this pressure would encourage the Atholls to enter into productive negotiations with them. The Duke and Duchess, however, attempted to delay matters, which led to the British government introducing the ‘Mischief Bill’ into Parliament, in January 1765. This legislation proposed to give Crown Customs officials the legal authority they had always lacked, when it came to their ability to enter both Manx waters and the isle itself, in order to conduct searches and make seizures of illicit goods and the vessels carrying them. The Atholls’ opposed this Bill, petitioning Parliament in early February, but their objections were rejected. They were also informed that another piece of legislation was to be introduced that would essentially force the Atholls to sell their rights to the island at a reduced price. Upon this news, the Duke and Duchess relented and entered negotiations with the British. On 28th February 1765, it was announced that the Atholls would sell their lord proprietary rights and control over the customs to the British Crown for the sum of £70,000, along with receive an annuity of £2000 for the remainder of both their lives from the Irish Revenue. On 10th May, the Isle of Man Purchase Act (also known as the Act of Revestment) was given the royal assent, and on 17th May, the £70,000 was handed over, at which point the Atholls’ reign as the Lords of Mann came to an end.

The ‘Mischief Act’ came into effect from the beginning of June 1765 and had a significant impact on the Manx smuggling trade, at least in the short-term. The House of Keys, now donning the mantle of the people’s representatives, sent a number of delegations and petitions to Parliament over the next seven years, hoping to have the restrictions placed upon the Isle of Man’s trade, by the ‘Mischief Act,’ either removed or relaxed. However, in all attempts the Keys failed, as the British believed that the Manx should only concern themselves with either farming, herring fishing or linen manufacturing.

Even though the Duke and Duchess had been essentially forced to relinquish their lord proprietary rights over the Isle of Man, along with their control over its customs, the Atholls were allowed to retain manorial rights, such as ownership over game, and claim to wrecks of the sea and treasure troves; along with landed estates and the ecclesiastical patronage over the Bishopric of Sodor and Man. However, much of the 3rd Duke’s and Duchess’ era on the island was characterised by disputes between the now Manx Crown officials with the Atholls, over what rights the family held there and their extent.

This conflict between the Atholls and the Manx Crown officials over the family’s rights on the Isle of Man was left unresolved at the time of the 3rd Duke’s death, in November 1774, at which point his son, John (1755-1830), inherited the dukedom. The now Dowager Duchess handed over manorial rights and some of the ecclesiastical patronage to her son in 1774/1775, and he made his first visit to the island in 1779. Upon his initial visit, the 4th Duke discovered that his Seneschals overseeing his affairs on the isle, John Quayle the Younger and William Callow, had been abusing their positions to lease some of His Grace’s lands to themselves and their families at reduced rents, along with taking other liberties. Quayle and Callow were promptly removed from office, and the Duke’s affairs on the island would be overseen by a number of different individuals over the years, including: Peter John Heywood, Charles Small, William Scott, Robert Steuart and James McCrone.

Much of the 4th Duke of Atholl’s relationship with the Isle of Man, between 1780 and 1805, was focused on his attempts to ascertain and establish what rights the family held on the island, along with claim further remuneration for the Revestment. The Duke would present a Bill to Parliament in 1780/1781, asking for the manorial rights to be established and for the lord proprietary rights to be returned, all of which was rejected. In 1787, His Grace sent a memorial to the British Treasury, complaining about the infringements upon his manorial rights by the Crown officials. In 1790, the Duke petitioned Parliament to convene a commission to examine his complaints over infringements to his rights on the isle, though he withdrew that in favour of sending a similar petition to King George III (1738-1820), asking for a commission to be establish by royal decree, which was granted. A Commission of Inquiry was sent to the island in 1791 to examine the Duke’s claims, which to varying degrees corroborated His Grace’s allegations. However, the recommendations suggested by this commission were not acted upon, and the Duke renewed his efforts in 1801, now seeking further compensation for the Revestment. In 1805, His Grace was awarded an annual rentcharge on the isle’s surplus revenue.

As a consequence of the 1791 Commission, the Duke of Atholl was appointed the Governor of the Isle of Man in 1793. As Governor, His Grace’s presence on the island was intermittent, leaving much of the day-to-day governance to the Lieutenant Governors: Alexander Shaw (1737-1811), between 1790 and 1804; and Cornelius Smelt (1748-1832), between 1805 and 1832. However, the 1st Royal Manx Fencibles were raised under his supervision in 1793, along with a second battalion in 1795.

Much of His Grace’s governorship was characterised by his strained relationships with the Lieutenant Governors. His relationship with the House of Keys was also a fractious one, which likely stemmed from their opposition to his attempts to first reclaim the lord proprietary rights to the Isle of Man, and then later on pursue further compensation for the Revestment. These unhappy relationships no doubt spurred on the Duke’s decision to separate himself and his family from the island. In 1825, he sold the rentcharge on the Manx surplus revenue to the British government. This was then followed by an arbitration process between 1826 and 1828, which saw a number of surveys conducted to ascertain the value of the ecclesiastical patronage, demesne lands, tithes, mineral rights and other properties; before their eventual sale to the British in 1828. In total, the Duke received £417,144.

Divorced of all manorial rights and ecclesiastical patronage on the Isle of Man, the Duke remained Governor until his death in 1830, at which time the Atholls’ connection to the island was completely severed.

Language: Anglo-Norman French, English, French, Icelandic, Latin, Manx

Extent: 7348 items

Collection: Manuscript Archive

Level: FONDS

ID number: MS 09707

Record class: Private

Access conditions: No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material. Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing


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Working with the artifacts at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, in California, I am fascinated the Atholl collection. Being of Manx heritage, I look forward learning more about this project. - Susan Shimmin-Okey Report this

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